President Bashar al-Assad should have role in fight against Isis, says Austrian foreign minister

The regime has been accused of carrying out war crimes against its citizens

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The Independent Online

The West should work with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the fight to defeat Isis, Austria’s foreign minister has suggested.

Sebastian Kurz said that leaders must be “pragmatic", in a departure from the West's official approach to the conflict which is partly based on accusations that Mr Assad's regime has committed war crimes against its civilians.

The official operation against Isis has seen a US-led coalition target the extremist group in Syria without the involvement of Mr Assad's regime.

However, European diplomats have privately suggested that Mr Assad should be involved in the operation against Isis, which has claimed swathes of Syria and Iraq since the summer of 2014 to form its so-called Islamic State.

Highlighting the Syrian government’s alleged war crimes, which were outlined in an Amnesty International report published in May, Mr Kurz: "We need a pragmatic common approach in this respect including the involvement of Assad in the fight against Islamic State terror."

“One should not forget the crimes that Assad has committed, but also not forget the pragmatic view of the fact that in this fight we are on the same side” he told reports during a state visit to Iran, Syria’s ally.

However, Mr Kurz later distanced himself from his comments, and sought to clarify that he does not regard Mr Assad as part of a long-term solution to the civil war, but rather that he should be invited to take part in any immediate peace talks.

Since pro-democracy demonstrations descended into civil war 2011, around a quarter of a million people have died, and 11 million people have fled the nation.

As desperate refugees arrive on Europe’s shores and borders seeking shelter, leaders are under increasing pressure to resolve the conflict.

Nations including the US, UK and France have prioritised defeating Isis and leaving Assad’s leadership undisturbed, while maintaining the view that his treatment of his civilians has fuelled extremism.

On Monday, the depth of the UK's involvement in the conflict was exposed after Prime Minster David Cameron revealed that two British citizens fighting for Isis in Syria were killed by RAF airstrikes last month.

The attack took place despite the fact that Mr Cameron did not have backing from Parliament.

Mr Kurz’s made the comments after French President Francois Hollande said on Monday reiterated his view that "Assad is responsible for the situation in Syria" and must leave power "at some point or another".

Highlighting the complexity of the situation, Spain's Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia Margallo, mirrored Mr Kurz’s comments, and said on Monday that Mr Assad’s involvement in negotiations were necessary to end the war.

But Rami Abdulrahman from the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Reuters that Mr Assad's government, not Isis, was the biggest problem in Syria.

“How many Syrian children, how many people have died in strikes by the regime's barrel bombs? You want to include a criminal in this? The majority of people in Syria have been killed by the Assad regime,” he said.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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