16, December 2016
The former French prime minister and the Republican party’s presidential candidate has criticized the Western policy towards Syria’s nearly six-year-old conflict, stating that Europe’s stance vis-à-vis the deadly crisis has shown “indignation.” Speaking to reporters following a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and leaders of European center-right parties in Brussels on Thursday, Francois Fillon stated that Europe has to engage in negotiations with parties involved in the Syrian conflict to save lives. “I told European leaders that what we are forced to concede today is that Western diplomacy and in particular European diplomacy has failed,” he said, rejecting the option of a US military onslaught against Syria.
The 62-year-old French politician, who has previously called for restoring ties with the Syrian government, added, “The other option is a strong European diplomatic initiative to bring around the table all those who can stop this conflict,” which started in March 2011. Commenting on the European strategy with regard to Russia, which has been conducting an air campaign against militants in Syria for over a year, the French presidential hopeful said, “I simply have a lot of respect for Russia. I’ve always said whether Russia’s leader is called Vladimir, Boris or Igor, he is the leader of the biggest country in the world. Europe must have a long-term strategy with Russia and not just act emotionally.”
Fillon’s comments come as Russia has criticized the West for its failure to contain extremist militants it supports in Syria and “indefinite” procrastination when it comes to peace talks for the war-ravaged Arab country. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said last month that the West had been unsuccessful to wield influence on Takfiri militants in Syria. “As a result, the prospects for the start of a negotiation process and the return to peaceful life in Syria are postponed for an indefinite period,” he said at the time.
The United States has been supporting militants it calls “moderate.” Russia has in return emphasized there are no such militants in Syria, and all militant groups are perpetrating savage acts of terror in the conflict-ridden country. Washington refuses to designate specifically what groups it deems “moderate,” even though Moscow has expressed preparedness for potential cooperation in that regard.
US officials have been campaigning strongly against Russian aerial attacks in Syria, saying the strikes may target the “moderates.” Russia began its air campaign against Daesh and other terrorist groups in Syria in September 2015 upon a request by the Damascus government. United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura estimates that over 400,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict. The UN has stopped its official casualty count in Syria, citing its inability to verify the figures it receives from various sources.