Annan to ask Putin help on Syria

2012-07-15 22:55
(File, AFP)

(File, AFP)

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Moscow - UN special envoy Kofi Annan will seek President Vladimir Putin's help in ending the conflict in Syria during a visit to Moscow starting on Monday, with pressure mounting on Russia to stop propping up Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

Diplomats say Moscow has sent mixed signals in its comments on Syria since stepping up its diplomatic involvement in the past week but see no change in its position at the United Nations, where it continues to defend President Assad.

The Syrian opposition told Russia bluntly at talks last week that its protection of Assad was prolonging the bloodshed, and French President Francois Hollande made a new appeal to Moscow to stop blocking peace efforts at the weekend.

Announcing that Putin would meet Annan on Tuesday, following talks between the UN envoy and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday, the Kremlin press service said only that Putin would underline his support for the envoy's peace plan.

"It is the Russian side's understanding that this plan is the only viable platform for the solution of Syria's internal problems," the president's press service said in a statement released on Sunday.

Russia, which has a right of veto on the UN Security Council, provides arms to Syria and has repeatedly blocked Western resolutions calling for foreign intervention since the uprising against Assad's rule began 16 months ago.

Moscow said last week it would block a new resolution being discussed by the Security Council on extending a monitoring mission in Syria if it included a threat of sanctions, and proposed its own resolution - including no sanctions threat.

Although some experts say Russia may be considering a shift in its stance if it becomes clear that Assad will be forced out of power, others see no change.

"Moscow still supports Assad and does not call for Assad to step down. And without the Kremlin ceasing its support for Assad, there is no opportunity for the Syrian crisis to be resolved peacefully," said Lilia Shevtsova, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Centre think tank and an expert on Putin.

"There were and will be no changes in the Kremlin's rhetoric or actions," she said by telephone.

Russia wants foothold

Russia has faced growing criticism of its stance on Assad, even though its leaders have said repeatedly that Moscow's policy is not based on keeping any individual in power.

Hollande said in France on Saturday that there was still time to find a political solution to avoid a civil war in Syria.

"I told Vladimir Putin that the worst thing that could happen is a civil war in Syria so let's work together to find a political solution to avoid civil war," he said.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has accused Russia and China - which also has a right of veto on the Security Council - of blocking a settlement, saying they should "get off the sidelines" and help.

Annan will be making his second visit to Moscow as peace envoy, after Russia backed his peace plan in March, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will be visiting China this week.

Russia intensified its diplomatic involvement in the conflict last week by holding talks with two Syrian opposition delegations in Moscow. It has also offered to host international talks on ending the conflict.

Moscow, which wants to keep a foothold in the strategic Middle East country when the crisis ends, has said repeatedly that the conflict should be resolved through diplomacy, not force, and the solution should involve the United Nations.

In a move some analysts said could presage a Russian shift away from the authoritarian Syrian leader, a Russian arms trade official was quoted last week as saying Moscow would deliver no more weapons to Assad while the fighting continued.

But despite this, Russian military sources say five Russian warships are heading for Syria, where Moscow has a naval maintenance facility, and there was no sign of a change in the Kremlin's position when Lavrov met the Syrian opposition in Moscow last week.

Read more on:    un  |  francois hollande  |  kofi annan  |  vladimir putin  |  syria  |  russia  |  uprisings  |  syria conflict

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