Canada joins international group seeking peace deal in Syria

Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion says Canada has joined an international body seeking to broker an end to the Syrian civil war.

'We in Canada don't believe Mr Assad is part of the solution to say the least' says Dion

Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion says people in Syria will starve to death if a way to get aid into the area cannot be found. (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters)

Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion says Canada has joined an international body seeking to broker an end to the Syrian civil war.

The International Syria Support Group includes 26 countries and organizations, including the United States and Russia, which are co-chairs of the body.

Dion says only a negotiated settlement can end the civil war and eliminate the destabilizing influence of the conflict, including the huge migrant populations surging into Europe.

"Of course we in Canada don't believe Mr. Assad is part of the solution to say the least. We don't think peace will be possible with him around, but let's start the negotiations first," Dion told CBC News Network's Power & Politics.

"The other problem is the Assad regime using the presence of this terrorist group [al-Nustra] to bomb entire cities and villages and then to reach legitimate opposition groups, targeting them, because al-Nustra is in the neighbouring [area]," he said. 

The Russians and Americans have proposed a sequence of events including a ceasefire, a transition period and free elections.

Canada agrees with that plan, he says.

"I am not optimistic, let's say I am more optimistic than before the meeting but the difficulties remain very serious," Dion told host Rosemary Barton. "We need to have humanitarian support reaching the population everywhere, where it is possible."

Dion said that it is currently not possible to get aid in to people and if there is no humanitarian air drops the population will starve to death.

"Every day you have killings, you have people that are suffering. Even today in Syria many people died. And these fights must stop. We need to find a way to act. There is urgency to act and it is what these 26 countries said," Dion said.

Ending the conflict is vital

"Canada must be a determined peace-builder and the peace process in Syria is key for the world," he said in a telephone interview with the Canadian Press from Vienna, where the support group met on Monday.

Dion said he made several proposals to the meeting, calling for an end to the use of what are known as barrel bombs — indiscriminate explosive charges that are dumped on villages and neighbourhoods.

He urged that the names of detainees in Syria should be turned over to the United Nations, along with their locations, and he called on Syria to suspend all death sentences.

The main problem is getting the various factions in the country to agree to stop fighting.

Canada to help through World Food Program

That would allow easier movement of food and medicines into the country, which has seen up to half its population displaced by the fighting.

If there is no ceasefire by June, he said, other steps will be needed.

"If we still have this problem, then the United Nations should be ready to have air drops across Syria of food and medication," Dion said.

"Canada will be there to support through the World Food Program."

The support group first met last fall in an effort to reinvigorate the peace process and find a diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis in Syria.

With files from Peter Zimonjic