Russia seeks UN backing of Syria peace plan

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, September 8, 2012 8:13 EDT
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Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) chats to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during the APEC summit in Vladivostok (AFP, Sergei Karpukhin)
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VLADIVOSTOK, Russia — Russia said Saturday it would ask the UN Security Council to endorse a plan to end the raging violence in Syria, but the United States insisted that any resolution had to have teeth.

Russia has been the main diplomatic and military supporter of Syria’s embattled President Bashar al-Assad and has angered Western nations by vetoing along with China three attempts at the Security Council to exert more pressure.

Meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia was willing to go back to the Security Council to seek its blessing for a stalled peace plan agreed by world powers in Geneva on June 30.

“We stressed in a meeting with the US Secretary of State that Russia will push for the Security Council’s approval of the Geneva communique,” Lavrov said after the talks on the sidelines of an Asia Pacific summit in Vladivostok.

The idea gained some support from China, with foreign ministry official Chen Xu saying in Vladivostok that there was “no reason” not to support the Geneva-brokered plan, while refraining from offering a firm endorsement.

Lavrov rejected US calls for more economic pressure, telling reporters: “In Syria we are not supporting any sanctions because sanctions will not bring about anything.”

Lavrov said the latest attempt at a Security Council resolution would take place later this month when foreign ministers meet as part of the annual United Nations General Assembly in New York.

The Kremlin-backed Geneva plan called for all sides in Syria to implement a ceasefire, in line with a proposal by former UN chief and negotiator Kofi Annan, and then to form a transitional government and review the constitution.

The plan immediately triggered new disputes between world powers, with the United States and its European allies ruling out any future role for Assad but Russia saying that the transitional government should be decided by Syrians.

The Geneva plan has failed to halt violence on the ground, including reported massacres of civilians. Human rights monitors say that 26,000 people have died since protests erupted against Assad in March 2011.

Clinton, in her talks with Lavrov, said that she was open to another attempt at the Security Council based on the Geneva plan but wanted any resolution to carry consequences if Assad did not comply, a senior US official said.

Clinton told Lavrov that “in the context of the escalating violence, we have got to do more, if we can, in the Security Council to send a strong message”, the official quoted her as saying.

But Clinton said a UN resolution “won’t actually advance the agenda unless there are real consequences for non-compliance” such as economic sanctions, the official said.

Clinton, in her talks both with Lavrov and on Wednesday in China, made clear she was “keeping the door open to going back” to the Security Council if a resolution had teeth, the official said on condition of anonymity.

She told the two veto-wielding nations: “If you guys are prepared to make the UNSC (UN Security Council) of value, we’re prepared to work with you again.”

But in the absence of more serious diplomatic pressure, the United States remains committed to “accelerate our work with like-minded countries to hasten the day” that Assad’s regime falls, the official said.

China said President Hu Jintao held talks with his host Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok but that Syria did not come up.

Russia and the United States have traded strongly worded accusations against each other over the conflict, with Washington believing that Moscow has propped up Assad through military supplies and diplomatic support.

Russia has in turn accused outside powers of turning a blind eye to Islamist elements among the rebels and of fuelling violence by supporting the opposition.

The United States says it supports only non-lethal assistance, while Gulf Arab states are believed to be arming mostly Sunni Muslim rebels seeking to oust Assad, who belongs to the minority Alawite sect.

Lavrov also criticised US sanctions over both Syria and Iran, whose sensitive uranium enrichment work has prompted Western and Israeli charges that it is seeking a nuclear weapon.

“Unilateral US sanctions against Syria and Iran are increasingly becoming extra-territorial in nature and are touching upon the interests of Russian business,” Lavrov said.

Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse
AFP journalists cover wars, conflicts, politics, science, health, the environment, technology, fashion, entertainment, the offbeat, sports and a whole lot more in text, photographs, video, graphics and online.
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