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France ‘could work with Assad's forces’ against IS group

AFP / Yuri Kadobnov | Russian French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (L) speaks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov (R) during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on November 26, 2015

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius suggested Friday that troops loyal to Bashar al-Assad could be used to fight the Islamic State group, but only in the framework of a political transition without the Syrian President.

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“Troops on the ground cannot be ours, but [there could be] Syrian soldiers from the Free Syrian Army, Sunni Arab states, and why not regime troops,” Fabius told RTL radio without specifying whether he meant immediately or in the long-term.

Fabius’s comments were immediately welcomed by his Syrian counterpart, Walid Muallem.

"Better late than never. If Fabius is serious about working with the Syrian army and dealing with the forces on the ground that are fighting Daesh, then we welcome that," Muallem told a press conference following talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, using the Arabic name for the IS group.

However, an official in the French Foreign minister’s team insisted that the minister was reiterating France’s long-standing position that there could be no cooperation with Syrian government forces to battle the IS group until a unity government was in place.

“It could only happen in the framework of a political transition and Fabius stresses that this transition is urgent and indispensable,” the official said.

The French foreign minister’s remarks came amid signs of increasing cooperation between France and Russia in the battle against the IS group in Syria, in the wake of the terror attacks in Paris and the downing of a Russian passenger jet in Egypt – both claimed by the terrorist organisation.

French President François Hollande met with Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Thursday and said the two leaders had agreed to coordinate strikes on oil transportation targets in territory held by the IS group.

He also said they had agreed to strike “only terrorists” in Syria. Russia has previously been accused of targeting Western-backed Syrian rebels fighting Assad.

Russia commits to ‘not bombing’ anti-IS forces

Fabius revealed Friday that Putin had also asked France to provide Russia with maps detailing the locations where forces fighting IS group militants operate in Syria in order not to bomb them.

“He asked us to draw up a map of forces that are not terrorists and are fighting Daesh. He committed to not bombing them once we’ve provided that,” Fabius said, using an Arabic name for the IS group.

Nevertheless, Assad’s future remains a significant stumbling block to a coordinated Syria strategy between Russia and the West. The Syrian president is a key Moscow ally and the Kremlin is keen to see him stay in power, while France, the US and others have repeatedly said he must go.

“If we want to move towards a free, united ... Syria, it cannot be that he [Assad] who is at the origin of 300,000 deaths and millions of refugees can lead [Syria] ... Assad cannot be the future of his people,” Fabius said.

For now, though, both sides share an immediate priority in the coming weeks in freeing Raqqa, the IS group’s Syrian stronghold, Fabius said.

“It is the neurological centre of Daesh, where attacks, especially those in France, originated,” he said.

“There is now one point upon which everyone agrees and that is the objective of destroying Daesh,” Fabius added. “I think on that we are progressing.”

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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