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French FM says Assad must go, contradicting Macron

French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian Reuters

French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has said there will be no peace in Syria as long as President Bashar al-Assad is in power, apparently contradicting President Emmanuel Macron's statement that Assad's departure is not a prerequisite for the ending of the six-year conflict there.

"We cannot build peace with Assad," Le Drian, who was defence minister in the previous, Socialist government, said on French radio RTL. "He cannot be the solution."

Earlier this year Macron said that kicking Assad out was not a "prerequisite" for peace in Syria and said he could not see a "legitimate successor".

But Le Drian on Friday said that a timeline for political transition, leading to a new constitution and elections, must be established, and stipulated that "this transition cannot happen with Bashar al-Assad".

Fighting Islamic State a priority

Macron has said that defeating the Islamic State (IS) armed group, which has claimed responsibility for many attacks in France, is the country's priority.

French troops are taking part of the US-led international coalition established in 2014 to fight IS in Syria and Iraq.

Le Drian said Friday that IS "will be defeated in Syria", leaving the country with a "single conflict, that of the civil war" of opposition forces against the Assad government.

Macron has charged Le Drian with forming a new contact group on Syria to relaunch the stalled political process but its composition - notably whether Iran will take part - is not yet clear.

Previous talks

UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, who has hosted seven rounds of talks in Geneva, said last month that he hopes to launch "real, substantive" peace talks between the government and a still-to-be-formed unified Syrian opposition in October.

Assad's fate has been one of the main stumbling blocks in negotiations.

Kazakhstan has hosted parallel talks, with a new round possible in mid-September.

The United States in July shut down a covert programme supporting armed Syrian opposition groups.

The head of US military special operations, Tony Thomas, denied that the four-year-old operation was scrapped as a way to placate Russia and earn its support for a ceasefire in south-west Syria.