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Syrian war will not end while Assad has power: Boris Johnson

Newly appointed UK foreign secretary backtracks on previous statements supportive of the Syrian president
Boris Johnson, the UK's new foreign secretary (AFP)

The UK's new foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, said on Tuesday that the Syria conflict will not end while Syrian President Bashar Assad remains in power, an apparent reversal of statements he has made as recently as March.

Johnson made the comments ahead of his first talks in his new position with his US, French, German and Italian counterparts to be hosted on Tuesday in London.

"I will be making clear my view that the suffering of the Syrian people will not end while Assad remains in power. The international community, including Russia, must be united on this," Johnson said.

"We must be more active, more engaged and more outward-looking, so I am delighted to have this early opportunity to welcome my international counterparts to London for important meetings on the conflicts in Syria and Yemen."

In a Telegraph column in March, however, the then-mayor of London called on the international community to work with Assad to fight Islamic State group and praised the Syrian government forces' recapture of Palmyra as a “victory for archaeology”.

"Hooray, I say. Bravo – and keep going. Yes, I know. Assad is a monster, a dictator. He barrel-bombs his own people. His jails are full of tortured opponents. He and his father ruled for generations by the application of terror and violence – and yet there are at least two reasons why any sane person should feel a sense of satisfaction at what Assad’s troops have accomplished.

"The first is that no matter how repulsive the Assad regime may be – and it is – their opponents in Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) are far, far worse...

"And then there is a second reason why I rejoice at the news from Palmyra... it is, for me, of deep emotional importance. The victory of Assad is a victory for archaeology, a victory for all those who care about the ancient monuments of one of the most amazing cultural sites on Earth."

In a column in the same newspaper in December, Johnson said the UK should work with both Assad and also Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

In an interview with NBC News earlier this month, Assad said that Russia had "never" discussed any plans for political transition with him.

Yemen talks 

Johnson on Tuesday was due to hold a meeting with foreign ministers from Saudi Arabia and the UAE to discuss the conflict in Yemen.

Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch (HRW) revealed that UK and US munitions sold to Saudi Arabia have been used by its coalition in Yemen to target factories, farms and other sites key to the country's economy.

The report includes evidence showing a missile made after the Saudi-led coalition commenced air strikes in Yemen being used against a civilian economic structure.

The Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) described the revelations made by HRW as being the most “compelling evidence” yet of UK weapons being used on Yemeni civilians.

According to CAAT, the UK government has since approved £2.8bn ($3.6bn) of weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, despite claims of grave human rights violations committed by coalition forces

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the branch of the UK government responsible for issuing arms sales licences, told MEE: “Risks around human rights violations are a key part of [the UK government's] assessment against the consolidated criteria and a licence will not be issued, to Saudi Arabia or any other destination, if to do so would be inconsistent with any provision of the consolidated criteria.”

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