The senior British diplomat made the remark in an interview with Sky News on Thursday, as Syrian government troops, with the help of Russia’s air cover, have so far managed to restore full control over vast regions of the country once occupied by terrorists and militants.
“The British long-standing position is that we won’t have lasting peace in Syria” with Assad in power, Hunt said, but added that “we do think he’s going to be around for a while, and that is because of the support that he’s had from Russia.”
This is the first time a British minister has spoken so frankly about the reality on the ground in the Arab country.
President Assad’s seven-year term in office will end in 2021.
The Arab country has been infected by foreign-backed militancy since 2011. The Syrian government says the Israeli regime and its Western and regional allies are aiding terrorist groups wreaking havoc in the country.
In a bid to eliminate terrorists and liberate the militant-held areas, Russian warplanes have been carrying out air raids against targets belonging to Daesh and those of other terror outfits inside Syria at the Damascus government’s formal request since September 2015. The airstrikes have significantly helped Syrian forces advance against anti-Damascus militants.
The UK, just like some other Western countries, including the US, has in the past demanded that Assad step down, alleging that the Syrian leader has no legitimacy to rule after launching alleged attacks, including with chemical weapons. London’s allegations, however, have been strongly rejected by Damascus and Moscow.
The Syrian government has stressed on numerous occasions that it has not used and will not use chemical weapons against its own people.
Elsewhere in his remarks during a three-day trip to Asia, Hunt said that Russia “gained a responsibility” in Syria in restoring peace
“If you’re going to be involved in Syria then you need to make sure that there really is peace in Syria,” he said.
He also said that Russia was responsible to prevent any use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government.
Western governments and their allies have never stopped pointing the finger at Damascus whenever an apparent chemical attack takes place.
Syria surrendered its entire chemical stockpile in 2013 to a mission led by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the United Nations.
Last month, US President Donald Trump announced his unexpected decision to pull all 2,000 American troops out of the war-ravaged Arab country, adding that the withdrawal would be slow and gradual, without providing a timetable.
A US-led military coalition of Washington’s allies, including the UK, has been conducting airstrikes against what are said to be Daesh targets inside Syria since September 2014 without any authorization from Damascus or a UN mandate.
The military alliance has repeatedly been accused of targeting and killing civilians. It has also been largely incapable of achieving its declared goal of destroying Daesh.
The restoration of peace in much of Syria has prompted the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to reopen their diplomatic missions in the Arab country after several years of closure, marking a diplomatic boost for Assad from a US-allied Arab state that once supported armed groups fighting him.
Last month, the UAE reopened its embassy in Damascus, which it had closed in 2011. Bahrain followed suit and other countries, including Kuwait, are expected to re-establish ties in the coming year. And the Arab League is reportedly poised to re-admit Syria, seven years after expelling it.