Trump, May and Merkel aim to convince Russia to end Assad support

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US President Donald Trump spoke in separate phone calls on Monday with British Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel about the US air strike in Syria last week, the White House said in a statement.

May and Merkel expressed support for the US action and agreed with Trump “on the importance of holding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accountable” for an alleged sarin gas attack that killed scores of civilians, the statement said.

A “window of opportunity” exists to convince Moscow to end its support for Assad, May Trump said in the phone call.

“The prime minister and the president agreed that a window of opportunity now exists in which to persuade Russia that its alliance with Assad is no longer in its strategic interest,” a spokeswoman for May’s Downing Street office said.

The phone call between the two leaders came after last week’s suspected chemical attack on a rebel-held Syrian town that killed at least 87 civilians.

Washington retaliated with an air strike on a Syrian air base, the first time the US has directly intervened against the Assad regime which it has blamed for the attack on civilians.

Britain said it “fully supported” the US strikes and both countries have put pressure on Russia to stop backing the Syrian regime, with British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson cancelling a visit to Moscow scheduled for Monday.

Johnson said his decision came after developments in Syria “changed the situation fundamentally” and that his priority would instead be the meeting of G7 foreign ministers on Monday.

The Italy summit of the seven major advanced economies was expected to be dominated by Syria, ahead of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson travelling to Moscow on Tuesday for talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

In their phone call on the eve of Tillerson’s visit, Trump and May said it “provides an opportunity to make progress towards a solution which will deliver a lasting political settlement”.

The Syrian regime has denied it was behind the April 4 attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun.
Moscow has so far stood by Assad, describing the US strikes as inflicting “considerable damage” to already “lamentable” US-Russia ties.

Russia also threatened to suspend a vital hotline established to avoid mid-air collisions or clashes with a US-led coalition targeting ISIS.

More than 320,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict erupted in March 2011 with anti-government demonstrations.

(AFP and Reuters)

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