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Assad is root of Syria crisis, Qatar tells Putin

Russia has expanded its aid to Syria's regime. [Getty].

Date of publication: 29 September, 2015

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Qatar's foreign minister says that his country can work with Russia to tackle the Islamic State group, but that Putin must reconsider his support for Assad.
Qatar's foreign minister said on Monday there was general international agreement with Russia on its call to fight Islamic State, but cautioned that it failed to tackle the root cause of the crisis in Syria, which was President Bashar al-Assad.

"Nobody can reject Mr. Putin's call for an alliance against terrorism, but ... we need to treat the cause," Khaled al-Attiyah said. "We believe strongly that the Syrian regime, namely Bashar al-Assad, is the real cause."

Qatar is among Sunni Arab countries that have joined in or supported U.S.-led air strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria. However, it has questioned the lack of action by Western powers against Assad's government.

"We can't come together and say, 'Bravo, you are our ally in fighting the terrorists which you (Assad) either created or brought in'," Attiyah told Reuters in the interview at Qatar's UN mission.

Attiyah's comments came as Russian president Vladimir Putin met his US counterpart Barack Obama to discuss Syria, but failed to resolve their dispute over the future role of Assad.  

In dueling speeches before the UN General Assembly, Obama branded the Syrian leader a child-killing tyrant while Putin said the world should support Assad against the Islamic State group.

The Russian leader urged UN General Assembly members to unite to fight the militant group and warned that he plans to step up support for Assad's forces and has not ruled out air strikes.

The US and Russian presidents clinked glasses and shook hands at lunch with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon after their addresses, but nothing could disguise the gulf in their positions.

Putin, an ally of Assad, and Obama later met for 90 minutes for talks the Russian leader dubbed "constructive and business-likes" and a senior US official called a "business-like back and forth."

Putin appeared pleased that Obama had agreed to Russia having a role in the debate, and said: "In my opinion there is a basis to work on shared problems together."

Both leaders agreed there should be a process of political transition in Syria but, the US official added, they "fundamentally disagreed" on the role of Assad.

"I think the Russians certainly understood the importance of there being a political resolution in Syria and there being a process that pursues a political resolution," the official said.

"We have a difference about what the outcome of that process would be," he added.

In his first speech to the world body in a decade, Putin warned it was an "enormous mistake to not cooperate with the Syrian group which is fighting the terrorists face-to-face."

"We must address the problems that we are all facing and create a broad anti-terror coalition," he declared, proposing a Security Council resolution on a coalition to include Assad and Iran.

'Innocent children'

Obama said Washington was ready to work with Russia and even Iran against Islamic State group militants, but warned this must not mean keeping Assad in power in Damascus indefinitely.

"The United States is prepared to work with any nation, including Russia and Iran, to resolve the conflict," he said.

Rather than a bulwark against Islamist extremism, Obama argued, Assad drives Syrians into the arms of such groups by such acts as dropping "barrel bombs to massacre innocent children."

Not to be outdone, the Russian leader blamed the rise of violent extremism on the US military interventions in Iraq and Libya, which he said unleashed chaos in the Middle East.

He argued that the IS group now running rampant in Syria and Iraq sprang out of the chaos left behind after US-backed forces ousted Saddam Hussein from Baghdad and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.

After the end of the Cold War, Putin argued, the West emerged as a new "center of domination" of the world and arrogantly took it upon itself to resolve conflicts through force.

This power led to the "emergence of areas of anarchy in the Middle East, with extremists and terrorists," he said.

Raids against the Islamic State group by the US-led coalition of Western and Arab allies are illegal, he argued, because they were not requested by Syria nor authorized by the UN Security Council.

If there were a proper legal basis for air strikes, Russia had not ruled out taking part, he said later at a news conference.

"We are thinking about how to additionally help the Syrian army," he said. "We don't rule anything out. But if we are to act it will only be fully respecting international legal norms."

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