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Western Countries Say No Syria Reconstruction Without Political Transition

Syrian rebel fighters stand near the destroyed Uwais al-Qarni shrine in Raqqa, Syria, on September 16.
Syrian rebel fighters stand near the destroyed Uwais al-Qarni shrine in Raqqa, Syria, on September 16.

Countries opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad say they will not support the reconstruction of the war-torn Middle Eastern country until there is a political transition there.

"We believe that the only way forward is to get a political process going and to make it clear to the Russians, the Iranians, and the Assad regime that we...will not support the reconstruction of Syria until there is such a political process, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on September 18 in New York.

"And that a transition away from Assad," Johnson said. He was speaking to reporters after a meeting of the Friends of Syria Group, an alliance of mainly Western and Gulf Arab countries, on the sidelines of the annual General Debate of the UN General Assembly.

U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield said that all participants in the meeting agreed that "there has got to be a political process if there is to be any international participation in the reconstruction of Syria."

Russia and Iran have backed Assad and his government throughout the war in Syria, which is now in its seventh year. Russia substantially stepped up its involvement in September 2015, launching a campaign of air strikes and increasing its military presence on the ground.

Earlier, France said it was vital that major powers worked together to help revive UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva, warning that a status quo in Syria risked leading to the country's permanent fragmentation and opening the door to new radical Islamist groups.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said France would call a meeting with the four other permanent members of the UN Security Council -- Britain, China, Russia, and the United States -- this week to discuss developing a group "bringing together the main actors” in the Syrian conflict.

Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders said the French proposal was not discussed at the Friends of Syria meeting.

"If the contact group had Iran in it, that would be difficult for us," a senior U.S. official was quoted as saying to explain Washington’s position.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

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