Syria will dominate a meeting of the UN general assembly in New York, with Russia pressing other countries to unite against Islamic State.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is a supporter of his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad, but the US, UK and France want to see him removed because of the role he has played in Syria’s bloody civil war.
President Putin will meet Barack Obama today and try to convince him co-ordinated action against IS, rather than the Assad regime, is what is needed to stabilise Syria. But David Cameron said ahead of the meeting that he wanted to see a Syria free of Assad and IS.
He now believes Assad could remain in power on a temporary basis as part of a transitional government – a softening of Britain’s previous position, which emphasised that the Syrian president would have to leave office before a peace deal could be agreed.
Today, he meets Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, an ally of Assad. Unlike President Rouhani and the US, Russian and Chinese presidents, he will not be making a major speech to delegates, which has been criticised by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
“What matters now is a broad and comprehensive plan as the foundation for a political solution to the conflict and a new United Nations Security Council resolution,” Mr Corbyn said.
“That’s why it is so disappointing that David Cameron isn’t showing leadership and unlike other world leaders won’t be speaking at the UN this week.”
Mr Cameron’s government would like to be able to extend air strikes against IS from Iraq to Syria, but needs parliamentary approval to do so. Mr Corbyn’s election makes it less likely Labour will give its backing to the prime minister.
The Syrian civil war has cost more than 250,000 lives, left Europe struggling to deal with a huge influx of refugees and led to the rise of Islamic State.
Russia is building up its military capability in Syria to support the government, but Mr Cameron maintains that President Assad cannot be part of a peaceful soluton.
“Assad can’t be part of Syria’s future. He has butchered his own people. He has helped create this conflict and this migration crisis. He is one of the great recruiting sergeants for Isil,” he said. “He can’t play a part in the future of Syria and that position hasn’t changed.”