Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took the highly symbolic opportunity of a visit to the Sant’Anna di Stazzema memorial in Italy – a memorial to the victims of a Nazi massacre – to declare Americans would “rededicate ourselves to holding to account any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world.”
From there, Tillerson went on to the G7 summit, which CNN notes is “the first meeting of US allies since President Donald Trump ordered the bombardment on the Shayrat airbase in western Syria last week.”
Meanwhile, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, one of the Trump administration’s strongest voices against the Syrian regime, described regime change in Syria as a high priority on CNN’s State of the Union.
“If you look at his actions, if you look at the situation, it’s going to be hard to see a government that’s peaceful and stable with Assad,” she said.
“In no way do we see peace in that area with Assad as the head of the Syrian government,” Haley reiterated on NBC’s Meet the Press.
The BBC describes G7 ministers as seeking to “hammer out a unified approach to the Syria conflict.” This remains as elusive a goal as ever, although creating some distance between Russia and Syria looks like the top item on the agenda.
Even though Tillerson is generally less aggressive about regime change in Syria than Haley, and insists defeating the Islamic State is still the Trump administration’s top regional priority, he has criticized Russia for not keeping its promises to eliminate Syria’s weapons of mass destruction.
“I hope Russia is thinking carefully about its continued alliance with Bashar al-Assad, because every time one of these horrific attacks occurs, it draws Russia closer into some level of responsibility,” Tillerson said on ABC’s This Week.
“I will tell you, I’m disappointed because I think the real failure here has been Russia’s failure to live up to its commitments under the chemical weapons agreements that were entered into in 2013,” he said. “And so the failure related to the recent strike and the recent terrible chemical weapons attack, in large measure, was a failure on Russia’s part to achieve its commitment to the international community.”
Tillerson said he would discuss Russia’s “obligation it made to the international community when it agreed to be the guarantor of the elimination of the chemical weapons” when he meets with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov next week.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson more directly advised Russian President Vladimir Putin to sever ties with Assad, warning that Putin was “toxifying the reputation of Russia” by associating with “a guy who has flagrantly poisoned his own people.”
“We need to make it clear to Putin that the time to back Assad has gone. He must understand that Assad is now toxic in every sense,” Johnson urged
Johnson also suggested the G7 would consider further sanctions, not only against Syria but against Russian military officials deemed accomplices to the Syrian government’s atrocities. The BBC notes that if Johnson’s threat is realized, it would bring the first sanctions against Russians over their Syria policy.
Haley had similar ideas about calling Russia out for enabling Assad’s crimes. “You know what? We’re not going to have you cover for this regime anymore. And we’re not going to allow things like this to happen to innocent people,” she said on Meet the Press.
“Look, when you have a violation of the chemical weapons issue, and you’ve got a violation of Security Council resolutions over and over again, and you vetoed, seven times, to protect this war criminal, we’re going to call you out on it. We’re going to call you out for the fact that you’re covering up,” she added.
“I can’t imagine a stable and peaceful Syria where Assad is in power,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said on Monday, echoing Haley almost word for word.
Spicer stressed that Russia “stands with Syria, North Korea, and Iran,” which is not the sort of company a respectable nation ought to be keeping.
Australia’s Malcolm Turnbull joined in as well, denouncing Assad’s “criminal horrendous action” of “gassing his own people, women and children and babies.”
“What we await now is leadership from Russia, which is the sponsor of the Syrian regime, to work with other powers to bring this shocking conflict to an end,” said Turnbull.
The UK Independent doubts Russia will give up on Assad, no matter how hard the G7 nations push because Russia “owes its return to great power status in the eyes of much of the world to its military intervention in Syria and will not want to change its previous stance.”
Also, with the tide of the Syrian civil war so clearly turned by Russian and Iranian intervention, it’s not certain the Russians could unseat Assad if they wanted to, and if they did, the resulting power vacuum could easily be filled by something worse.