France plans Friends of Syria meet, rejects Iran
PARIS (Reuters) - France will host a meeting on July 6 of countries that back the departure of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad but said on Thursday it would not include Iran in attempts to resolve the worsening crisis.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that, with world powers seeking a way to stop the bloodshed in the uprising against Assad, Paris would host a third "Friends of Syria" meeting with the aim of supporting the opposition and preventing the conflict spreading to neighboring countries.
"We consider in France that Bashar al-Assad is an assassin and the sooner he leaves power, the better," Fabius told reporters.
About 50 nations, including the United States, Britain, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, will take part. The group's previous meetings have yielded very little given the political stalemate and lack of desire to intervene militarily.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said that neighboring Iran would not be invited to participate.
"The Iranian regime until now has without fail supported Bashar al-Assad and the bloody repression of his people," Valero said. "In this context, it is not possible to have it associated with resolving the Syrian crisis."
France, along with Western and some Arab states, is trying to increase the pressure on Damascus. It has been seeking to reach a compromise with Russia, a supporter of Assad, to allow tougher action by the Security Council and move towards a political transition.
Valero said the conference in Paris would include the opposition and be within the "framework of efforts by the international community to ensure ... (Kofi) Annan's six-point plan is efficiently put into effect".
Russia, which will be invited to the July meeting, said in April the Friends of Syria group was "destructive" and could undermine Annan's peace efforts which it says must not be abandoned despite persistent violence.
The central plank of Annan's peace plan was a ceasefire that never took hold.
Speaking after meeting French President Francois Hollande, Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, who has previously advocated arming rebels, said the Syrian government had done everything to ensure the Annan plan failed.
"It is our view that the six-point plan must be placed under U.N. Charter chapter 7 so that we can impose it," he said.
"This is what we suggested at the (foreign ministers) meeting we just had (in Istanbul on Wednesday). Yesterday, most countries agreed to place the plan under Chapter 7, but we need Russia and China to agree."
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