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Boris Johnson urges Russia to end 'blind support' for Assad

Boris Johnson has called on Russia to end its "blind support" for Syrian president Bashar Assad, while urging China to use its influence to restrain North Korea.

The Foreign Secretary said the United States missile attack in response to the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons "creates an opportunity to break the deadlock" and pave the way for a political settlement.

He also said China has a role to play in delivering a peaceful resolution to the rising tensions in the Korean peninsula amid warnings from Pyongyang about the risk of nuclear war.

Mr Johnson updated MPs on global events after the Commons returned following t he Easter recess.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Johnson reiterated that Britain was given advanced notice of the US operation to attack the Syrian government airfield suspected of launching the chemical attack although "at no stage" was UK military help sought.

He said US President Donald Trump had sent an "emphatic" message that the "era when Assad's barbarism was met with passivity and inaction has finally come to an end".

Mr Johnson said: "America's determined response creates an opportunity to break the deadlock and pave the way for a political settlement of Syria's tragedy.

"But that will only happen if Russia is prepared to bring Assad to the negotiating table and begin a transition to a new government that represents the sole chance of peace in Syria."

Mr Johnson said the UK has "no intention of dislodging Russian interests in Syria", adding: "But Russia's position in Syria does not depend on Assad."

The cabinet minister went on: "I hope I have the support of everybody in this House when I say I call on the Russians to end their blind support for Assad.

"Stop the gas attacks and the barrel bombs, allow the delivery of aid to those who need it, deliver a real ceasefire and begin the political process that will include a transition away from Assad."

Mr Johnson said president Assad's regime "almost certainly gassed its own people" earlier this month, adding this showed the "emptiness of that agreement reached in 2013, guaranteed by Russia, that was supposed to rid Syria of chemical weapons once and for all".

He added: "And I'm afraid exposing the misjudgment of those who regarded that deal as a substitute for resolute action."

On North Korea, Mr Johnson said "no-one can be complacent" about the threat potentially posed by intercontinental ballistic missiles being developed by the regime in Pyongyang despite the fact they have not been fully tested.

He said: "Yesterday I spoke to my Chinese counterpart Wang Yi and I urged him to use Beijing's unique influence to restrain North Korea and to allow peaceful resolution of this crisis.

"By suspending their coal imports from North Korea, China has given a welcome signal of its willingness to exert pressure on the regime.

"Later this month I shall attend a special meeting of the security council on North Korea."

North Korea's deputy United Nations ambassador Kim In Ryong has accused the United States of creating "a dangerous situation in which a thermonuclear war may break out at any moment".

Mr Trump has sent an aircraft carrier and supporting warships to the region and on Monday Vice President Mike Pence travelled to the Demilitarised Zone dividing North and South Korea and warned Pyongyang "the era of strategic patience is over".

After 25 years of trying to deal patiently with North Korea's nuclear and missile ambitions, Mr Pence said "all options are on the table" to deal with a threat.

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry criticised Mr Johnson's efforts to introduce fresh sanctions against Russia at the G7 last week.

She said: "Why, rather than ensuring the G7 with one strong voice on Syria last week, did he instead present them with a half-baked, quickly rebuffed proposal for sanctions, without doing any preparatory work to win that support that was needed?

"He ended up last week disowned by Downing Street, ignored by Russia and humiliated by the G7.

"The only straw he can cling onto, we presume, is this - that the United States state department is still telling him what to say and do, and which countries he is allowed to visit."

Mr Johnson fired back, saying: "Rather than simply parroting, if I may say, the lines of the Kremlin, she should support the collective action of the West."

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