Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should be put on trial following “hundreds of thousands of deaths” and “chemical arms use” during the country’s civil war, the French foreign minister said on Tuesday.

Asked during a television interview if she wanted Assad to be tried, Catherine Colonna said “the answer is yes”, adding that “the battle against crime, against impunity is part of French diplomacy.”

Colonna nevertheless said Paris would not be changing its policy towards the Syrian ruler. “We have to remember who Bashar al-Assad is. He’s a leader who has been the enemy of his own people for more than 10 years,” she said.

A lifting of European Union sanctions on the Syrian regime was “certainly not” planned, she added. “So long as he doesn’t change, so long as he doesn’t commit to reconciliation, to the fight against terrorism, the fight against drugs… so long as he doesn’t fulfil his commitments, there’s no reason to change our attitude towards him,” Colonna said.

“I think it’s up to him to change, it’s not up to France to change our attitude,” she added.

“Treated like a thug”

Assad last week returned to the regional scene with an appearance at a summit of the Arab League, an organisation he had been banned from for a decade.

However, France does not intend to change its policy vis-à-vis Bashar al-Assad. The European Union and the United States have also maintained their opposition to normalization with the Syrian regime without a political solution to the years-long war.

President Biden’s administration has been widely criticized inside the United States, accused of taking a passive approach towards changing Arab attitudes.

In a briefing last month, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf said Assad’s government ‘deserves to be treated like the thug that it is’ .

Still, if Arab states reach out to Assad, the US strategy is to urge them to “get something for that engagement” in return, she said.

Roger Barake, avec AFP