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UK-hosted talks to consider 'all options' on Syria amid Aleppo death toll anger

Published 13/10/2016

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and US secretary of state John Kerry will hold talks about the situation in Syria
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and US secretary of state John Kerry will hold talks about the situation in Syria

Britain is to host talks by Western powers to consider "all options" for ending the bloodshed in Syria amid deepening anger and frustration at the rising civilian death toll in Aleppo.

As the regime forces and their Russian backers continued to pound rebel-held areas of the city, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said it was time to consider "more kinetic options" including "military options".

The Foreign Office insisted that his comments were not intended as a first step towards military intervention in Syria's bloody civil war.

But giving evidence to the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr Johnson said the US-Russia dialogue aimed at brokering a ceasefire appeared to have "run out of road" and there was a need to find an alternative way forward.

He told MPs that he had called US secretary of state John Kerry and other Western foreign ministers - including those of France and Germany - for talks on Sunday to consider their options.

"Most people, I think, are now changing their minds about this and they are thinking 'We can't let this go on forever, we can't just see Aleppo pulverised in this way, we have to do something'," he said.

"Whether that means we can get a coalition together now for more kinetic action now, I cannot prophesy, but certainly what most people want to see is a new set of options."

His comments followed calls from MPs on both sides of the House debate on Syria for the establishment of a no-fly zone to end the air strikes on Aleppo, however Mr Johnson said they had to be "realistic" about what could be done.

With time running out for the Obama administration and the US in the grip of an extraordinarily bitter presidential election, he acknowledged it may be some time before Washington was ready for a new initiative.

"It is right now we should be looking again at the more kinetic options and the military options, but we must be realistic about how these in fact work and what is deliverable," he said.

"Certainly you can't do anything without a coalition with the Americans. I think we are still a pretty long day's march from getting that, but that doesn't mean that discussions aren't going on because they certainly are."

Downing Street also stressed caution, saying Theresa May would want to "weigh up very carefully" the "potential consequences" of any proposals that were brought forward.

Meanwhile, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov announced plans for a rival meeting on Saturday bringing together countries with "direct influence on what is going on on the ground", including the US as well as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

"We would like to have a meeting in this narrow format to have a businesslike discussion, not another General Assembly-like debate," he said in an interview with the American CNN network.

Mr Lavrov also hit out at Mr Johnson after he repeated accusations Russian forces had been responsible for war crimes in Aleppo, accusing him of "politicking" and of trying to set himself up as some sort of "internationally-recognised prosecutor-general".

The Foreign Secretary insisted he was not seeking a new cold war stand-off with Moscow, and said that while the actions of President Vladimir Putin represented a "very serious problem, ultimately there would have to be dialogue.

"It is doing many, many terrible things, but I don't think that Russia today can be compared with the Soviet Union as I remember as a child. I don't think it is right to talk about a new cold war," he said.

"We have a very serious problem, but we have to engage with Russia - we have to persuade the Russian government, we have to persuade Vladimir Putin, that there is another path for him and for his government," he added.

Downing Street insisted there were "no plans for military action" but "we are working with the international community to look at how do we bring a conflict to an end".

The Prime Minister's spokeswoman added: "As the Foreign Secretary has said, lots of the options that people are looking at have got difficult issues that would need to be addressed."

Ultimately there would need to be a "political transition and a political solution", she added.

Press Association

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