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Spanish foreign minister: Assad a 'lesser evil' in Syria

Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said that Europe and the Syrian government had a 'common enemy'
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad speaking to the press following a meeting with a delegation of French lawmakers in Damascus (AFP)

Spain's foreign minister has branded Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a “lesser evil” compared to the Islamic State and called for cooperation with his government against IS.

"The lesser evil is to come to an agreement with Bashar al-Assad to begin a ceasefire allowing aid to reach the displaced... kickstart a political transition and above all attack our common enemy - Daesh (Islamic State group)," Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo told TVE television.

"We have to replace the 'Bashar yes or Bashar no' discourse by one of peace or war. If you want peace, you are going to have get along with Assad at least on a temporary basis."

He compared Assad to former Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, saying that the Americans had opted to ally with an enemy in Stalin to defeat the greater threat of the Nazis in World War Two.

His comments come in the wake of the attacks in Paris on Friday, purportedly by IS members, which left 129 people dead and Europe in a state of shock.

In the wake of the attacks, French President Francois Hollande invoked an article of the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty calling for solidarity in the wake of an attack on a member state, implying military coordination.

However, the Spanish foreign minister said better planning was needed for a united European response.

"We were surprised as we thought that they would activate another article allowing for mutual aid in case of terrorism," Garcia-Margallo said.

"I think we need to sit down all together and implement a coordinated plan."

The degree to which cooperation with Assad is necessary in order to combat IS has been a particularly thorny issue among a number of Western countries for many years.

Western governments, including the US, UK and France have repeatedly stated that Assad is part of the problem and not the solution.

Last month, prior to the attacks in Paris, the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that his government were seeking a precise timetable for Assad’s departure.

"We worked on the details of a political transition guaranteeing the departure of Bashar Assad within a precise timetable," Fabius said in a statement, ahead of international talks on the future of Syria in Paris.

However, as foreign policy in a number of countries has shifted towards a focus on fighting IS, a number of countries have softened their stance, with the US proposing that Assad can stay in power for a “transition” period.