G7 nations met in the Italian city of Lucca in order to agree on sanctions against Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Assad is accused of carrying out a deadly chemical attack in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun which killed 89 people.
The two-day meeting of foreign ministers from all G7 nations aimed to agree a unified approach to the Syrian issue. It ended when US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson left for Moscow. He insisted that Bashar al-Assad could not play a part in the country’s future.
The US under President Trump was once thought to be a potential ally of Russia, yet recently 59 cruise missiles were fired at a Syrian airbase under the President’s order.
Moscow still seems to hope for a constructive co-operation with the US, however, as Russian President Vladmir Putin called for the United Nations to hold an independent investigation into the chemical attack, despite previously having called the accusations ‘fake’. A senior US official accused the Russians of being aware of the attack, as one of their drones was apparently seen flying over Khan Sheikhoun’s hospital as victims were seeking help.
The British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson proposed sanctions against Syrian and Russian military figures as a response to the chemical attack, causing divisions among the other foreign ministers. Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano refused to back this move, preferring dialogue with Moscow.
Mr. Alfano said :
We think the Russians have the leverage that is needed to put pressure on President Bashar al-Assad and to get him to observe the commitments with regard to the ceasefire.
However, even if the final G7 communiqué did not mention that any sanctions will be applied, Mr Johnson is confident that there will be widespread support for sanctions when further evidence of the chemical attack is gathered.
The meeting was also divided when it comes to the future of the Syrian president. The US Secretary of State restated his country’s wish to remove Assad from power, stating that he did not want the regime’s stock of chemical weapons ‘to fall into the hands of Isis or other terrorist groups who could and want to attack the United States or our allies’.
Syria’s government still denies that it carried out a chemical attack, yet the Turkish Health Ministry has since confirmed that Sarin, a nerve agent, had been used. A White House official also declared that the US was confident that the attack could not have been carried by the rebels.