French Foreign Minister steps down with criticism of US Syria policy

Friday 05/02/2016
Fabius: There are ambiguities

PARIS - Outgoing French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Wednesday criticised the US role in Syria, saying he did not see "a very strong commitment" from Washington.

"There are ambiguities... You don't get the feeling that there is a very strong commitment," Fabius told reporters shortly before announcing that he was stepping down after nearly four years as Foreign Minister.

Fabius said he did not expect US president Barack Obama to change his stance in the coming months.

“I don’t think that the end of Mr Obama’s mandate will push him to act as much as his minister declares [publicly],” he added, referring to the secretary of state, John Kerry.

“There are words, but actions are different and obviously the Iranians and Russians feel that.”

In an attempt to prevent a collapse of diplomatic efforts to end Syria’s five-year-old civil war, Kerry is pushing for a ceasefire and increased humanitarian aid access ahead of a meeting of the International Syria Support Group in Munich this week.

But opposition delegates and many western officials see little hope of a diplomatic breakthrough while Russia continues to back a Syrian government push for a military victory.

Fabius, whose country has been a key backer of the Syrian opposition, said that ambiguity was contributing to the worsening situation.

An offensive by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, supported by Russian air strikes, against western-backed rebels has caused hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee rebel-held parts of Syria’s largest city, Aleppo.

“When you add [Assad’s] brutality, Russia and Iran’s complicity and the ambiguity you get the drama taking place in Aleppo,” Fabius said.

The outgoing foreign minister also took aim at Moscow, repeating a charge that Russian air strikes are targeting "moderate" opposition groups more than ISIS.

Fabius, 69, was France’s youngest ever Prime Minister when he was appointed, aged 37, in 1984. He is expected to take up a position as head of France’s constitutional court.

Speculation is rife over who could replace him as Foreign Minister, with the Environment Minister and former partner of François Hollande, Segolene Royal, or previous Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, tipped as possibilities.