September 21, 2015 / 8:04 PM / in 2 years

France softens stance on Assad departure: Figaro

PARIS (Reuters) - France will not demand Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s departure as a precondition for peace talks, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told Le Figaro in an interview.

President Bashar al-Assad addresses his supporters at a school in an undisclosed location during an event to commemorate Syria's Martyrs' Day May 6, 2015 in this handout provided by SANA. REUTERS/SANA/Handout via Reuters

“If we require, even before negotiations start, that Assad step down, we won’t get far,” Fabius was quoted as saying in a preview of the French daily’s Tuesday edition.

The comments represent a softening of France’s position towards Assad, whose four-year war against rebel groups and Islamic State fighters has claimed more than 200,000 lives.

The United States and Britain have already made similar shifts to their stances on Syria, as Russia bolsters its support for Assad with a military buildup in the country. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Saturday that the timing of Assad’s exit following a peace deal would be negotiable.

France believes a diplomatic resolution would require the establishment of a government of national unity including elements of Assad’s administration “to avoid the kind of collapse seen in Iraq”, Fabius also said in the interview.

Reporting by Laurence Frost; Additional reporting by John Irish; editing by Dominic Evans

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