G7 Foreign Ministers Seek New Push To End Syria War

From Left: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland and German Foreign Minister, Sigmar Gabriel, visit the Cathedral in Lucca, Italy, Monday, April 10, 2017. Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven industrialized nations are gathering in Lucca for a meeting given urgency by the chemical attack in Syria and the U.S. military response, with participants aiming to pressure Russia to end its support for President Bashar Assad. (Riccardo Dalle Luche/ANSA via AP)

LUCCA, Italy (AP) — Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven industrialized nations are expected to call for a new international push to end the war in Syria at the end of a meeting in Italy Tuesday.

But members differ on how much pressure to put on Russia over its support of President Bashar Assad, whose forces the G-7 blames for a deadly chemical attack last week.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said Russia, and Iran, must be involved in the peace process, and Japanese foreign ministry spokesman Masato Ohtaka said Russia “can play a key role.”

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson takes a tougher line, saying new sanctions on Russian military figures are being considered to urge Moscow to end military support for Assad.

The G-7 wants to deliver a united message to Russia through U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who heads to Moscow after Tuesday’s meeting in Lucca, Italy.

The other G-7 members — Germany, France, Britain, Canada, Japan and current president Italy — are also trying to grasp what the U.S. administration’s foreign policy is, amid conflicting signals from Washington.

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s office said she and U.S. President Donald Trump spoke by phone Monday and agreed there is a “window of opportunity” to persuade Russia that its support for Assad is “no longer in its strategic interest.”

Tillerson’s trip comes after an American official said the U.S. has drawn a preliminary conclusion that Russia knew in advance of the chemical attack — an allegation that heightens already acute tensions between Washington and Moscow.

Until Trump ordered U.S. missile strikes on a Syrian air base in response to the nerve gas attack that killed more than 80, the president had focused on defeating the Islamic State group and had shown no appetite for challenging Assad — and, by extension, his Russian supporter President Vladimir Putin.

Even since the missile strikes, signals have been mixed.

Tillerson raised fresh expectations for aggressive U.S. action — and not only in Syria — as he visited the site of a World War II Nazi massacre in central Italy, saying the U.S. would hold to account “all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world.”

Though such comments hint at a more activist U.S. foreign policy focused on preventing humanitarian atrocities, Trump has consistently suggested he prefers the opposite approach. His new administration has generally downplayed human rights concerns while promoting an “America First” strategy de-emphasizing the concerns of foreign nations.

Uncertainty about objectives persisted as Tillerson met Tuesday on the sidelines of the Lucca meeting with diplomats from “like-minded” countries on Syria, including Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as well as G-7 members.

The U.S. hopes the regional countries can help ensure security and stability in Syria after the Islamic State group is defeated.

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