UK ‘will help As­sad dodge pun­ish­ment’

The Mail on Sunday - - Femail - By Mark Ni­col DE­FENCE CORRESPONDENT

BRI­TISH diplo­mats are se­cretly plot­ting to help Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad es­cape jus­tice for his al­leged war crimes, The Mail on Sun­day can re­veal.

The shock move comes only months af­ter As­sad’s most re­cent chem­i­cal at­tacks–and fol­lows For­eign Sec­re­tary Boris John­son’s dec­la­ra­tion that he is an ‘arch ter­ror­ist’ who should face a crim­i­nal probe for his part in the war which has killed half a mil­lion peo­ple.

The se­cret UK plan to en­sure the dic­ta­tor clings to power for the fore­see­able fu­ture and avoids be­ing put on trial is re­vealed in a let­ter writ­ten by a For­eign Of­fice Min­is­ter.

The plan as set out by the Min­is­ter rep­re­sents a huge climb­down by Mr John­son and Theresa May. Ear­lier this year, the Prime Min­is­ter said As­sad had ‘ no fu­ture’ in Syria and he should be re­moved from of­fice.

In the leaked doc­u­ment, the Min­is­ter says that Bri­tain will agree to As­sad stay­ing in of­fice but he can­not con­tinue to rule Syria in­def­i­nitely. He adds: ‘ There is a change afoot al­beit with a clear re­tire­ment/ ex­ile plan for As­sad to be agreed.’ Last night, se­cu­rity ex­perts said Bri­tain’s U-turn on As­sad was re­gret­table but also in­evitable given the po­lit­i­cal stale­mate in Syria. For­mer Briti s h Army of f i cer Hamish de Bret­ton- Gor­don, who has helped to ex­pose the Syr­ian dic­ta­tor’s use of banned chem­i­cal weapons, said: ‘With­out ques­tion As­sad is a war crim­i­nal who should face jus­tice. But the truth is we can’t dic­tate terms to Pres­i­dent As­sad or his ally Pres­i­dent Putin. ‘We need progress to­wards a peace set­tle­ment and if ap­peas­ing this bru­tal dic­ta­tor is the price, then so be it. ‘The pol­icy change brings Bri­tain into line with the United States and France who have also ac­cepted that Pres­i­dent As­sad will stay on.’ A For­eign Of­fice spokesman r ef used t o com­ment on t he Min­is­ter’s let­ter last night, but re­it­er­ated the depart­ment’s of­fi­cial line on As­sad, say­ing: ‘ We be­lieve there needs to be a tran­si­tion away from As­sad to a govern­ment that can pro­tect the rights of all Syr­i­ans, unite the coun­try and end the con­flict.’

CRIMES: Bashar al-As­sad

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