France called Friday for a political transition in Syria that would not include President Bashar al-Assad, after a series of shifting positions on resolving the six-year-old conflict.
"We cannot build peace with Assad," Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on France's RTL radio.
"He cannot be the solution," said Le Drian, who was defence minister in the former Socialist government.
"The solution is to establish... a timeline for political transition that can lead to a new constitution and elections, and this transition cannot happen with Bashar al-Assad."
French President Emmanuel Macron said in July that the removal of the Syrian president was not a "prerequisite" for peace in the war-torn country, and that he did not see a "legitimate successor" to the leader who has been in power since 2000.
Paris had been a key supporter of the opposition to Assad's rule since the start of the conflict in 2011, which has since killed more than 320,000 people and displaced millions.
But Macron has said that the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group is a priority for France, which has endured a string of terror attacks that have killed more than 230 people since 2015. Some of these were planned in Syria.
On Friday, Macron said he hoped to organise an international conference early next year in Beirut on facilitating the return of Syrian refugees, saying this was crucial for "stabilising Syria and the entire region."
Lebanon currently hosts more than 1.2 million Syrian refugees.
France's armed forces are in action as part of the US-led international coalition fighting IS in Syria and Iraq.
The jihadist group has lost much of the territory it controlled in the two countries, and thousands of its fighters have been killed since late 2014, when the coalition was formed to defeat the group.
- UN talks in October? -
Le Drian said Friday that IS "will be defeated in Syria," leaving the country with a "single conflict, that of the civil war" pitting an opposition against the Assad government.
Macron has tasked Le Drian with forming a new contact group on Syria to relaunch the stalled political process.
So far Paris has not been forthcoming on the composition of the group, notably on the question of whether regional power Iran -- a key backer of the Syrian regime along with Russia -- would take part.
"Without Iran, we're wasting our time," a diplomatic source said. "But Iran is also a red rag to (US President Donald) Trump's America."
Another source said the group would consist of the five permanent members of the Security Council -- the US, Britain, France, China and Russia -- with regional powers included in "several discussion formats".
UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said last month that he hopes to launch "real, substantive" peace talks between the government and a still-to-be-formed unified Syrian opposition in October.
De Mistura has hosted seven rounds of largely unsuccessful talks in Geneva, with Assad's fate one of the main obstacles to progress.
Kazakhstan has hosted parallel talks, with a new round scheduled for September 14-15.
Those talks will focus on securing Syrian safe zones set up under an agreement between Russia, Iran and Turkey -- a backer of the rebels.
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