French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen said allowing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to stay in power may be the "least bad option" for ending the Syrian civil war and stemming the flow of refugees into Europe.
During a visit to Lebanon on February 20, the leading candidate in France's April 23 election became the latest world leader to say pushing for Assad's ouster may not be "realistic" anymore, given Assad's recent gains in battle with Russia's backing.
France's current government is among Assad's strongest opponents, insisting he must go as part of any settlement in United Nations peace negotiations due to resume on February 23.
Le Pen told Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri that there was "no viable and workable solution" to the Syrian civil war beyond choosing between Assad and the Islamic State (IS) extremist group, which she said must be "eradicated."
"Since we can't let IS take power, there is no alternative to Assad," she said. "The least bad option is the politically realistic. It appears that...Assad is evidently today the most reassuring solution for France."
Le Pen said tolerating Assad also may be the best way to protect minority Christians and enable them to stay in Syria.
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