PARIS (Reuters) - President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday he saw no legitimate successor to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and France no longer considered his departure a pre-condition to resolving the six-year-old conflict.
He said Assad was an enemy of the Syrian people, but not of France and that Paris’ priority was fighting terrorist groups and ensuring Syria did not become a failed state.
His comments were in stark contrast to those of the previous French administration and echo Moscow’s stance that there is no viable alternative to Assad.
“The new perspective that I have had on this subject is that I have not stated that Bashar al-Assad’s departure is a pre-condition for everything because nobody has shown me a legitimate successor,” Macron said in an interview with eight European newspapers.
“My lines are clear: Firstly, a complete fight against all the terrorist groups. They are our enemies,” he said, adding attacks that killed 230 people in France had come from the region. “We need everybody’s cooperation, especially Russia, to eradicate them.”
He said the second priority was ensuring the stability of Syria so that it did not become a failed state.
In more than six years, the Syrian conflict has killed hundreds of thousands of people and driven more than 11 million from their homes.
Until now, France has been a backer of the Syrian opposition. It has demanded the conflict be resolved through a credible political transition based on U.N. Security Council resolutions negotiated between Syria’s warring parties with the United Nations in Geneva.
However, Macron’s election victory has offered an opportunity for Paris to re-examine its policy on Syria with some considering the previous administration’s stance too intransigent and leaving it isolated.
Macron made no mention of the United Nations’ role in the interview.
“My deep conviction is that there needs to be a diplomatic and political roadmap. We will not resolve this solely militarily,” he said.
France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was in Moscow on Tuesday pushing for closer co-operation with Russia as part of what he said could drive relations to a renewed “spirit of trust”. Macron appeared to put his faith firmly in convincing Russian President Vladimir Putin to seek a solution.
“I don’t think he has an unshakeable friendship with Assad. He has two obsessions, fighting terrorism and avoiding a failed state, and so that’s why convergent views on Syria appear,” Macron said.
He said he believed it would be possible to work with Putin to fight terrorism and find a solution to the crisis, although he made clear Paris would no longer let the use of chemical weapons in Syria go unpunished.
“The use of chemical weapons will see a response, including by France alone,” he said. “France will therefore be completely aligned with the United States on this.”
Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Richard Lough and Janet Lawrence