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24th Mar 2019

EU leaders reach minimal agreement on Syria

  • Taftanaz, Syria: "The Assad regime bears the greatest responsibility for the 250,000 deaths of the conflict," EU leaders said. (Photo: Humanitarian Relief Foundation)

EU leaders meeting in Brussels on Thursday (15 October) agreed that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad bears "the greatest responsibility" for the conflict deaths and the displacement of refugees. The leaders also agreed to "express concern" at Russia's military involvement in Syria.

They also reaffirmed their support for the UN-led process for a political solution, including "all parties involved", such as Iran or Russia.

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But in a summit where Turkey's role in managing the migrant crisis was the main topic, they did not set out a specific plan or a common initiative to solve a conflict presented as the main "root source" of the refugee crisis Europe is facing.

"The Assad regime bears the greatest responsibility for the 250,000 deaths of the conflict and the millions of displaced people," EU leaders said in the conclusions of the summit.

The direct reference to the Syrian leader was not in the conclusions of the foreign affairs ministers on Monday (12 October) and was added on France's insistence.

"There cannot be a lasting peace in Syria under the present leadership and until the legitimate grievances and aspirations of all components of Syrian society are addressed," the conclusions read.

EU leaders "also agreed on the need to focus on the fight against Daesh [the Arab name for the Islamic State group] and other UN-designated terrorist groups" and "expressed concern about the Russian attacks on the Syrian opposition and civilians and the risk of further military escalation."

"I'm not convinced that Russian strikes are concentrated on Daesh," said French president Francois Hollande at a press conference.

"The EU is fully engaged in finding a political solution to the conflict in close cooperation with the UN and the countries of the region," leaders said in their conclusions.

They referred to the 2012 Geneva Communiqué, a text agreed by the UN-backed Action group for Syria to implement a UN plan to end the war in Syria.

The EU summit was preceded by a trilateral meeting between Germany's Angela Merkel, France's Francois Hollande and Britain's David Cameron. But the three leaders failed to produce a common position.

"We discussed all issues relevant to find a solution," Merkel said at a press conference.

"There was no debate. The common position is what the Geneva conference set out" in 2012, Hollande said.

'Assad will go'

Merkel, Hollande and Cameron disagreed on whether to include Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad in eventual peace negotiations.

While Merkel spoke in September "of the necessity to hold talks with many players, among them Assad", Hollande said in a speech at the European Parliament last week that it would "not be possible to have the opposition and the torturer of the Syrian people" at the same negotiating table. While in New York for the UN assembly general, Cameron said Assad "has to go" and "should be subject to international law".

At the EU foreign affairs ministers meeting on Monday, EU diplomacy chief Federica Mogherini said that the EU should "first of all have a reality check, and the situation on the ground is still having Assad sitting in Damascus."

Hollande, who is in a minority position, tried to downplay the disagreement.

"Assad will go, we all agree," he said.

"Some say he has to go immediately, he has to go in the middle [of the peace process], or he has to go at the end. What is important is to have a quick transition" to another regime, he said.

"The Russian intervention can consolidate the regime, but it will not save Bashar," Hollande added.

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