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Russia and Iran throw weight behind Assad at UN meet

Bashar al-Assad

United Nations : Russia and Iran have announced a new coalition to defend Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad and defeat the Islamic State, handing him a dramatic victory ahead of the UN General Assembly.

Assad was not among the dozens of leaders gathered in New York for the annual UN meeting, but will have been heartened by his allies’ demand that the world focus on defeating the jihadist threat.

“I think today everyone has accepted that President Assad must remain so that we can combat the terrorists,” Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said yesterday, in an interview with CNN.

That may be overstating the case: The United States and its allies continue to hold Assad responsible for a civil war that has left 240,000 Syrians dead and created the conditions for extremism to thrive.

But, on the day that France began bombing IS targets inside Syria, momentum appeared to be building behind the idea of leaving Assad in place while a political solution to the conflict is sought.

Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron echoed Washington’s line that Assad “can’t be part of Syria’s future” but British media reported he will use his UN address to abandon a demand that he step down before talks begin.

“Obviously conversations about how we bring about transition are very important and that’s what we need to see greater emphasis on,” he told reporters.

US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed concern in a meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov that Russian backing would embolden Assad to cling on to power and thwart any hopes for peace.

But Moscow’s support is not merely rhetorical and diplomatic.

Lavrov confirmed an announcement by Iraq that Russian, Syrian, Iraqi and Iranian officers have formed a joint intelligence cell in Baghdad to share information and plans to combat the Islamic State group.

And, in an interview with CBS News broadcast one day before he addresses the United Nations himself, President Vladimir Putin urged other nations to join a Russian-led war on the jihadists.

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