Jeremy Hunt admits Assad will be in power ‘for a while’ due to Russian support

The foreign secretary says Moscow must take responsibility for securing peace in Syria because of its support for the regime. 

The British foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has admitted for the first time that Russian support for the Syrian regime means Bashar al-Assad will remain in power for ‘some time’.

The UK has been at the forefront of calls for the Syrian President to leave the office as part of a transition to a new government, but over the past year British diplomats have acknowledged that Assad would have to be allowed to stand in any UN-supervised democratic elections in Syria.

In December the US President, Donald Trump, announced that the remaining 2,000 US troops in Syria would imminently withdraw, leaving Assad in power and a large Iranian Military presence intact within Syria.

Many Arab States have also accepted that Assad has survived the seven-year civil war and are preparing to reopen embassies in Damascus.

Britain has in the past demanded that Assad stand down from power, saying he has no legitimacy to rule after launching deadly attacks, including with chemical weapons, against his own people.

During a three-day-trip to Asia, Mr Hunt said: “I think you know the British long-standing position is that we don’t have lasting peace in Syria with that regime. But regretfully we do think he’s going to be around for a while and that is because of the support he’s had from Russia.

“Russia may think it’s gained a sphere of influence. What we would say to them is: Yes – and you’ve also gained a responsibility.”

The foreign secretary also said the fate of two alleged Islamic State (IS) fighters from the UK, who are accused of involvement in the murder of British and US hostages, must be decided in a year.

He was referring to Alexander Koytey and El Shafee Sheikh, suspected members of a four-strong hostage-taking group dubbed ‘The Beatles’ because of their British accents.

The two men, who have been stripped of their British citizenship, are being held by Syrian Kurdish forces.

But concern has been raised that all IS detainees could be freed if US troops - allied with the Kurds - pull out of Syria under a plan announced by Donald Trump.

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