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UK must mend Syria relations to tackle IS threat

Former prime minister Tony Blair with Bashar Assad in 2002. Picture: PA

Former prime minister Tony Blair with Bashar Assad in 2002. Picture: PA

BRITAIN must build bridges with Syrian President Bashar Assad to tackle the threat from Islamic State (IS) extremists, the former head of the Army has said.

Lord Dannatt suggested the West needed to recognise that it had misread the situation in Syria, where it has called for Assad to give up power, and seek the regime’s assistance in combating the group.

Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, the peer said IS had to be “opposed, confronted and defeated” in both Iraq and Syria.

“The Syrian dimension has got to be addressed. You cannot deal with half a problem,” he said.

“The old saying my ‘enemy’s enemy is my friend’ has begun to have some resonance with our relationship with Iran.

“I think it’s going to have to have some resonance with our relationship with Assad.”

Lord Dannatt went on: “I think whether it is above the counter or below the counter, a conversation has got to be held with him.

“Because if there are going to be any question of air strikes over Syria airspace it’s got to be with the Assad regime’s approval.”

The former chief of the general staff said it was “worth just reflecting... who actually understood that country, Syria, best - was it us, was it other people, or was it Assad himself?”

“It’s clearly turned out over the last two or three years to be a very diverse, very complicated country,” he said.

“I think the reason why, quite rightly, the British Parliament voted against intervention (in Syria) a year ago and we didn’t join American air strikes was we couldn’t be sure who we would be supporting.

“What’s become quite clear overt the last couple of months is that IS are awful. They received a bloody nose from Assad themselves, that is why they have gone off to Iraq and are operating in Iraq.”

Lord Dannatt said he believed more UK special forces may need to be deployed on the ground in Iraq to train Kurdish troops how to use weapons.

He also suggested the “time will come” when the Government decides that British planes should carry out air strikes, rather than leaving it to the US.

The peer repeated his call for Parliament to be recalled to discuss the crisis.

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