Australia softens stance on Assad

FM says not shying away from past comments on ‘illegitimacy’ of Assad regime, amid fear of potential vacuum being filled by ‘more diabolical presence’

Australia softens stance on Assad

World Bulletin / News Desk

Australia’s government has indicated that it is considering changing its long-held position that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must stand aside in order to secure an enduring peace settlement in Syria.

Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop told the media Saturday, while attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York, that a political as well as a military solution is needed to solve the Syrian conflict, which has left more than a quarter of a million people dead.

The ABC quoted Bishop as telling reporters of the “fear” among some countries that “if the Assad regime were either removed or collapsed, it would create a vacuum, and one might find that it was filled by an even more diabolical presence than the Assad regime.”

The major policy shift is being viewed as an example of the more pragmatic approach of Australia’s new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, in comparison to his predecessor Tony Abbott’s hardline style.

It also reflects the growing international consensus that strategically the Assad regime will be key to ensuring that ISIL doesn’t make further gains.

Bishop underlined that she was not shying away from previous comments by the government about the “illegitimacy of the regime.”

"President Assad unleashed chemical weapons on his own people, and the death and destruction in Syria is appalling and at unprecedented levels,” she said. "The humanitarian crisis is creating an issue throughout the Middle East and Europe, the likes of which we've not seen before.”

She added that while Assad’s regime “has been diabolically bad for Syria,” there was need for “a political solution because a military solution will not be the only answer."

Bishop told the Weekend Australian: “Given Australia’s significant contribution to the humanitarian crisis in Syria and Iraq and our involvement in militant operations against ISIL, it is inevitable that we will play a role as an advocate for a political solution in Syria.”

Australia has agreed to resettle 12,000 Syrian refugees.

"The reality is President Assad is still in Syria, the reality is Russia is backing President Assad," Bishop said, adding that she had been discussing the issue with her counterparts in the United States for some time.

“We must find a creative way of trying to bring some kind of peace and security and unity to Syria. Australia's view is that all options should be considered," Bishop said.

Bishop said it was becoming clear, with Russia’s backing of Assad, that his regime might have to be part of a national unity government.

"Russia's involvement [in negotiations with Iran over their nuclear program] has been said to be very positive by all of those negotiating that agreement,” Bishop said.

"If we use that as an example of Russia's preparedness to be part of a solution rather than part of the problem, then we can have some optimism that Russia's involvement is positive,” she added. "I would not like to think that Russia's involvement was purely for its own self interest."

Australia recently expanded its air operations against ISIL into Syria.

Australia’s Opposition leader Bill Shorten, however, has expressed reservations about a potential shift in Australia’s hardline stance toward the Assad regime.

Shorten told reporters in regional New South Wales, “I do not believe Australia should be picking sides in Syria.”

He went on to say that there was “not a great deal to separate” the Assad regime and ISIL.

Last Mod: 26 Eylül 2015, 13:30
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