The West should involve Syrian President Bashar Assad in the fight against Islamic State, Austria’s foreign minister said on Tuesday, breaking with the view of most Western powers that say Assad is the source of the problem.
Sebastian Kurz’s comments, during a state visit to Iran, reflect what some European diplomats have said privately for months, but they also expose a divide among Western countries on how to deal with Assad and the rise of hardline fighters four years into a war that has killed a quarter of a million and driven 11 million from their homes.
“We need a pragmatic common approach in this respect including the involvement of Assad in the fight against Islamic State terror,” Kurz told reporters. “One should not forget the crimes that Assad has committed, but also not forget the pragmatic view of the fact that in this fight we are on the same side.”
While the U.S. priority in Syria is battling Islamic State, not unseating Assad, Washington has stuck by its position that Assad’s treatment of his own people has fuelled extremism and that he must go, a view shared by Britain and France.
U.S.-led forces have been bombing Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq for the past year.