France warns of 'new disaster' looming in Syria's Idlib

French Minister for Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian gives an official statement in the press room after attending an emergency meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, France, Saturday, April 14, 2018. (AP/Michel Euler, Pool)
Updated 15 April 2018
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France warns of 'new disaster' looming in Syria's Idlib

PARIS: French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned Sunday that a new humanitarian disaster was looming in Syria, in the rebel-held region of Idlib, seen as the next possible target of the regime's fightback.
In an interview with Le Journal du Dimanche weekly a day after the US, Britain and France carried out strikes in Syria, Le Drian said: "There are 2 million people in Idlib now, including hundreds of thousands of Syrians evacuated from rebel towns recaptured by the regime."
"There is a risk of a new humanitarian disaster."
Held by an array of jihadists and rebels, Idlib province is the last in Syria largely beyond government control.
Speaking in Damascus this week, a senior Iranian official said he hoped Idlib would be the next area to be "liberated" by Iran ally President Bashar al-Assad, after the Syrian army's recapture of the Eastern Ghouta region near Damascus with Russian backing.
The scorched-earth battle for Eastern Ghouta wound up shortly after a suspected chemical attack killed over 40 people and which the West blamed on Assad's forces -- allegations Assad and Russia flatly denied.
Le Drian said he hoped Saturday's strikes, aimed at punishing the regime over its alleged use of toxic gas, would convince Russia to pressure Assad into negotiations on ending the seven-year war.
"We hope that Russia understands...we must combine our efforts to promote a political process in Syria that favours an end to the crisis.
"France is ready to work towards this. Except that currently the one blocking the process is Bashar al-Assad himself. It's up to Russia to put pressure on him," he said.
Le Drian said the first step would be "to begin with a ceasefire which is really respected this time."
He was referring to a 30-day ceasefire called by the UN in February to facilitate the delivery of aid and medical evacuations, which was never really implemented.
On Saturday, the US, France and Britain on Saturday launched a new push at the UN for a ceasefire.
In a draft text seen by AFP they also called for a mechanism to probe chemical attacks -- and also ascribe blame for them -- and demanded that Syria engage in stalled UN-led peace talks.


Berlin backs Macron’s Iran plan

In our view this agreement should be maintained, Merkel said. (AFP)
Updated 10 min 29 sec ago
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Berlin backs Macron’s Iran plan

  • Merkel will discuss Iran with Trump on a visit on Friday
  • Macron acknowledged that he does not know what Trump will decide

BERLIN, PARIS: Proposals presented by French President Emmanuel Macron on Iran’s nuclear deal are based on the existing international agreement but would add some new elements, a senior German official said on Thursday.

Speaking before Chancellor Angela Merkel heads to Washington for talks with US President Donald Trump, the official said: “The premise of Macron’s proposal is that the agreement remains in its existing form and additional elements come on top.” The official added: “In our view this agreement should be maintained.”

Trump has said he is not happy with the 2015 accord and may pull out of it. 

Iran’s President Hasan Rouhani insisted the deal cannot be changed or built on. 

The plan announced during Macron’s trip is part of European efforts to persuade Trump not to abandon the accord next month.

Merkel will discuss Iran with Trump on a visit on Friday.

The French president has meanwhile defended discussions with Trump for a new plan to curb Iranian nuclear weapons. Speaking to reporters before leaving Washington on Wednesday night, Macron said the new four-pronged agreement would be a “very important complement” to the existing 2015 accord.

Macron insisted on the importance of talking to all sides, including Iran ally Russia, and said the world should not force anything on Iran. He acknowledged that he does not know what Trump will decide.