France ‘can only’ work with Syrian army as part of a power transition

Syrian FM said Damascus ‘welcomes’ French statement on including regime in anti-ISIS fight

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Working with Syrian government forces to combat ISIS can only happen within the framework of a credible political transition for Syria, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Friday.

Earlier Fabius had appeared to suggest President Bashar al-Assad’s forces could be used to battle ISIS militants, which would mark a departure in the Western position that the Syrian leader must step down. Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem cautiously welcomed Fabius' earlier comments.

In a statement clarifying the French position, Fabius said: “The cooperation of all Syrian forces, including the Syrian army, against Daesh is obviously welcomed, but, as I have constantly said, it will only be possible in the framework of a political transition.”

Daesh is another name for ISIS, which controls swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem on Friday welcomed the proposal by his French counterpart to include the Syrian army in efforts to battle ISIS jihadist group.

“Better late than never. If Fabius is serious about working with the Syrian army and dealing with the forces on the ground that are fighting Daesh, then we welcome that,” Muallem told a press conference following talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow.

Diplomats were not immediately able to clarify Fabius’ comments. However, they said he has indicated in the past that Syrian government troops could be used to fight ISIS once a national unity government was in place.

“If we want to go towards a free, united ... Syria, it cannot be he (Assad) who is at the origin of 300,000 deaths and millions of refugees that can lead that... Assad cannot be the future of his people,” Fabius also said.

Meanwhile, Fabius said destroying ISIS’s Raqqa headquarters is the main objective of the international military campaign.

Fabius said “neutralizing and eradicating Daesh” is an objective that all countries agree upon, referring to ISIS by its Arabic acronym. He spoke after a week of intense diplomacy capped by the French president’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the downing of a Russian passenger plane over Egypt, as well as the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris that killed 130 people.

Fabius said Putin agreed on the need to focus international efforts against the extremist group and France is drawing up a map of other, moderate groups, to protect them from warplanes.

He also said the international coalition is focusing on oil convoys from the group’s territory, which provide a crucial source of income. He said some of the trucks head toward Turkey, and France believes Syrian leader Bashar Assad is also a buyer.

Syrian opposition groups also said a new wave of airstrikes on ISIS’s stronghold city of Raqqa has killed at least eight people, including five children.

It wasn’t immediately clear who carried out the airstrikes Friday.

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