December 11, 2015 / 3:17 PM / 4 years ago

Russia says fight against Islamic State hindered by focus on Assad regime change

Syrian civilians who volunteered to join local Self Protection Units to protect their neighbourhoods alongside the Syrian army attend training near a picture of Syria's president Bashar al-Assad and his father late former president Hafez al-Assad, in Damascus countryside, Syria December 5, 2015. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

ROME (Reuters) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday that the West’s insistence that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step aside before it works more closely with Russia in the fight against Islamic State is a “huge mistake”.

Speaking at a conference in Rome, Lavrov said the Western coalition fighting Islamic State had decided not to coordinate fully with Russia because it disagreed with its support of Assad.

“To say that we can only command the support of all coalition members when Assad is gone and until then we will be quite choosy as to the means of fighting terrorists, I believe is a huge mistake,” Lavrov said.

“We believe his (Assad’s) fate can only be resolved by the Syrian people themselves,” he said.

Reporting by Steve Scherer and Antonella Cinelli

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