A call by the British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, for targeted sanctions against senior Russian and Syrian figures has been rejected by fellow G7 foreign ministers.
At a meeting at Lucca in Italy, the group said there must be an investigation into last week’s chemical weapons attack in a rebel-held town before new measures could be adopted.
The Italian foreign minister, Angelino Alfano, said there was no consensus for fresh sanctions on Russia. Alfano said the idea had been raised by Johnson, but added that isolating Russia or pushing it into a corner “would be wrong”.
The G7 blames the Assad regime’s military for a deadly chemical attack last week, and ministers have strongly supported US missile strikes that targeted a Syrian airbase believed to have been used to launch the attack.
Alfano said the US intervention had offered “a window of opportunity to construct a new positive condition for the political process in Syria”.
But he said a political rather than military process was “the only solution,” according to Italian news agency ANSA.
His words masked a divide among G7 countries about how to deal with Syria and Moscow. The G7 had wanted to deliver a united message to Russia through the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who heads to Moscow later on Tuesday.
The Russian foreign ministry released a truculent statement ahead of Tillerson’s arrival noting that Russian-American relations were going through the “most difficult period since the end of the Cold War”. It said the “long list of irritants that have arisen through Washington’s fault is not decreasing.”
It said Russia was expecting Washington to agree to an investigation of the chemical attack in Khan Sheikhun, it said, again claiming that the Syrian government was not to blame.
“Does Washington plan to shift to real cooperation with us to counteract terrorism, including in Syria? The recent US missile strike on the Syrian government forces’ Shayrat airbase, which was an act of aggression against a sovereign government in violation of international law, will most likely strengthen terrorists,” the statement said.
Johnson earlier said the G7 was considering new sanctions on Russian military figures to press Moscow to end military support for the “toxic” Assad government. US officials in Washington have also raised that prospect.
However, a UK government source insisted the idea of targeted sanctions – against senior military individuals – remained on the table, if an investigation reveals Russian involvement in the Syrian attack, providing a solid legal basis for action.
The source added that Johnson had never intended to propose broad economic sanctions, which the Germans and the Italian governments tend to oppose as counterproductive, but to raise the prospect of specific, targeted measures.
“Tillerson goes with a clear message: Russia can work with all of us and fight terrorism, or continue on this path of ostracisation,” the source said.
But others want a more conciliatory approach. Germany’s foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, said Russia and Assad ally Iran must be involved in any peace process to end Syria’s six-year civil war.
Gabriel said the US had “sent a clear signal to the Assad regime” by launching cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase, but other nations should reach out to Russia rather than seek a military escalation.
“Not everyone may like it, but without Moscow and without Tehran there will be no solution for Syria,” he said.
Moscow’ statement said it also hoped to hear US plans for Libya, which it said “ended up essentially fractured as a result of the military intervention of Nato countries,” and Yemen, where American weapons were being used in bombardments leading to the “death of peaceful residents”.
Despite the reproach of Donald Trump’s missile strikes in Syria, the foreign ministry saved most of its venom for Barack Obama , whom it accused of trying to limit Russian influence and strive for “worldwide hegemony justified by arguments about American exceptionalism that recall the most evil historical associations”.
“Both the Ukrainian crisis and the Syrian problem, with all their tragic elements and ambiguity, are the direct result of the irresponsible policy of the Barack Obama administration, which was determined to obstruct the objective process of forming a multipolar world,” it said.