No future in Syria is possible with regime leader Bashar al-Assad, the G7 foreign ministers insisted on Tuesday.
There can be no peace solution for war-torn Syria with Assad in power, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told reporters.
The ministers were meeting in Italy as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson readies for crunch talks in Moscow.
He said the message for Russia was: “That’s enough now. There must be an end to hypocrisy and a very clear return to the political process”.
“This is not an aggressive stance towards Russia, rather a hand out-held, with clear intentions,” he said.
The United States has hardened its stance on Damascus since a suspected chemical weapons on a rebel-held Syrian town that killed at least 87 civilians and triggered a retaliatory US bombing raid on a Syrian air base.
The West is also pushing for Russia to rein in the Syrian regime, with the war now in its seventh year.
Ayrault was speaking at the close of the two-day ministerial meeting of the G7 which groups Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States. The group also held a special meeting on Syria on Tuesday with counterparts from Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the UAE.
Tillerson headed from Italy to Russia, where he is set to meet with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
Prior to his trip, he issued an ultimatum to Russia, saying: Side with the US and likeminded countries on Syria, or embrace Iran, militant group “Hezbollah” and Assad.
He said it was unclear whether Russia had failed to take seriously its obligation to rid Syria of chemical weapons, or had merely been incompetent. But he said the distinction “doesn’t much matter to the dead.”
“We cannot let this happen again,” the secretary of state said.
“We want to relieve the suffering of the Syrian people. Russia can be a part of that future and play an important role,” Tillerson added in remarks to reporters. “Or Russia can maintain its alliance with this group, which we believe is not going to serve Russia’s interests longer term.”
“It is clear to all of us that the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end,” he said. “But the question of how that ends and the transition itself could be very important in our view to the durability, the stability inside of a unified Syria.”
“That’s why we are not presupposing how that occurs,” Tillerson added.
He said the ceasefire talks that Russia and Iran have helped broker in the Kazakh capital, Astana, could generate momentum toward broader talks about a political transition — if the Astana talks succeed in creating a durable cease-fire. The resulting political talks would take place under the auspices of the United Nations process in Geneva.
“To date, Astana has not achieved much progress,” Tillerson said.
The US and others have said that Russia bears responsibility for the deaths of civilians at the hands of Assad given Moscow’s role in guaranteeing the 2013 deal in which Assad was supposed to have given up his chemical weapons arsenal.