Jeremy Hunt admits Bashar al-Assad position in Syria secure thanks to Russian support
Jeremy Hunt has become the first Cabinet minister to admit that Bashar al-Assad will remain in power in Syria despite UK efforts to remove him from office.
The Foreign Secretary said the country's president, who has been accused of using chemical weapons on his own people, will be around "for a while" thanks to support for his regime from Russia and Iran.
His comments are significant because until now, the UK government's official position has been to insist that Assad should be replaced as Syria's leader as a way of ending the country's civil war, which has been going on since 2011.
Speaking to Sky News during a visit to Singapore, Mr Hunt said: "I think you know the British longstanding position is that we won't have lasting peace in Syria with that regime.
"But regretfully 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."
However, the Foreign Secretary also said Russia had "gained a responsibility" for maintaining peace in Syria.
"If you're going to be involved in Syria then you need to make sure that there really is peace in Syria," he said. "And that means making sure that President Assad does not use chemical weapons on his own people."
General Lord David Richards, former chief of the defence staff, told Sky he "reluctantly" agreed with Mr Hunt.
He said: "I'm no apologist for Russia or the Assad regime but actually this has been staring us in the face for a number of years now, and I think it's time to turn a page and accept reality. Our strategy - if that is the right word - failed miserably and Russia's with Iran has been successful.
"We did offer a coherent military strategy - a military strategy has to be a synthesis of military actions with political actions - and that of course was why Russia's has been successful whereas ours has not been."