Italy calls for dialogue with Russia on Syria

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Brussels, April 16 (IANS/AKI) Italy’s Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano on Monday urged Western allies, especially the US, to keep channels of communication open with Syria’s top ally Russia, calling Moscow “a leading player” in the war-wracked Middle Eastern country.

“It is vitally important to keep Washington in negotiations led by the United Nations and in this context we must also keep dialogue open with the main players in the (Syrian) crisis, first and foremost Russia,” Alfano told a European Union summit here.

Only a political solution can end the more than seven year long conflict in Syria between rebels and forces allied with President Bashar al-Assad, he said at the meeting of EU Foreign Ministers.

“It is incumbent upon us to recall that there is no military solution to the war in Syria and that we must have a political strategy,” Alfano said, adding that the EU can play “an important role” in a Syrian peace deal within the framework of the UN-led peace negotiations being held in Geneva.

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“We reaffirm our support for (UN special envoy to Syria) Staffan De Mistura and the centrality of the Geneva process, within which Europe can play an important role,” Alfano said.

The donor conference on Syria slated for April 24-25 in Brussels, which over 70 delegations are expected to attend, offers the EU a chance to take “political centre-stage” in the Syrian peace process, he said.

The administration of US President Donald Trump was on Monday planning to slap sanctions on Russian companies believed to be “dealing with equipment related to Assad and chemical weapons use,” US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, told TV network CBS on Sunday.

Haley’s announcement came after the US, UK and France bombed government sites in Syria on Saturday following a suspected chemical weapons attack on the rebel enclave of Douma, outside Damascus on April 7 that allegedly killed dozens of people.

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Western allies believe chlorine gas and possibly Sarin were used in the attack and that the Syrian government was responsible. Syria vehemently denies this.

The planned US sanctions underline the deterioration in relations between Moscow and the West amid the tit-for-tat expulsions of scores of diplomats and the closing of consulates over Russia’s alleged poisoning in Britain last month of a former Russian spy and his daughter with a nerve agent.

The US also imposed sanctions in March against Russian companies and individuals for allegedly intervening in the 2016 presidential election and for staging cyberattacks against Western facilities.

–IANS/AKI

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