Fabius: Assad departure not necessary

France's Foreign Minister says the departure of Syrian President no longer necessary before any political transition.

Arutz Sheva Staff ,

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius

The departure of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad is no longer necessary before any political transition in the war-torn country, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in an interview published Saturday.

The comments mark a softening of Paris' position on the Syrian president as attention turns to the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) group which staged a series of bloody attacks on the French capital last month, killing 130.

"The fight against Daesh is crucial, but it will only be totally effective if all the Syrian and regional forces are united," Fabius told the French regional newspaper Le Progres, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.

"How is it possible that Bashar Al-Assad is president, he who committed so many atrocities, and who has a large part of the population against him?" he said.

"A united Syria implies a political transition. That does not mean that Bashar Al-Assad must leave even before the transition, but there must be assurances for the future," added Fabius.

France, along with Washington and other Western powers fighting ISIS jihadists, have long insisted Assad must step down as part of any political solution to the four-year Syrian conflict.

Paris has been adamant in its opposition to Assad, describing him as a "butcher" of his own people, a stance that was hailed by Syria's exiled opposition as "exemplary".

On a trip to Washington last week, French President Francois Hollande reiterated his determination to see Assad step down in order to give Syria a chance for peace, saying "it should be as soon as possible."

But signs of France’s shift in position was evident already in September, when Fabius said France will not demand Assad's departure as a precondition for peace talks.

Last month, Fabius sparked speculation after telling France's RTL radio "regime forces" could potentially join the fight against ISIS.

He told Le Progres that "the experience of recent decades, whether it is in Iraq or in Afghanistan, shows that Western forces on the ground quickly appear like occupation forces.

"The operations must be led by local forces: Syrian, moderate, Arab, Kurdish, or, if necessary, then in coordination with the Syrian army, which is impossible without a political transition", he told the Lyon-based paper.

Assad, for his part, lashed out at France following the Paris attacks, saying they were caused in part by French policy, and later said his country is willing to share intelligence information with France but only if Paris changes its policies in the region.

AFP contributed to this report.