Isolating Syria 'a mistake': Russia
The Hague - Isolating Damascus in talks to end the brutal crackdown in Syria would be a mistake, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday as he welcomed a vote on a new Syrian constitution.
Speaking at a press conference in The Hague, after meeting Dutch counterpart Uri Rosenthal, Lavrov took a swipe at countries wanting to isolate President Bashar Assad's regime which is accused of human rights abuses.
"Unfortunately some of our partners long ago wrote off the government of Syria," said Lavrov, whose country together with China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution earlier this month to condemn the violence in Syria.
Lavrov said Moscow welcomed Assad's decree ordering a referendum this month on a new constitution this month which would effectively end nearly 50 years of single party rule.
"We certainly believe a new constitution to end one-party rule in Syria is a step forward," Lavrov said. "it is a welcome idea and we hope the constitution will be adopted."
He said Russia continued to believe that Syrians should solve their problems through dialogue without outside interference and only when both Assad's regime and pro-democracy forces were involved.
Syria's official Sana news agency earlier reported that Assad had issued a decree setting Sunday February 26, as the date for the referendum, which would usher in a "new era" for Syria.
Under the new charter, freedom is "a sacred right" and "the people will govern the people" in a multi-party democratic system based on Islamic law, state television reported.
The proposed constitution does away with Article 8 of the old charter which declared the Baath Party, in power since 1963, as the "leader of the state and society".
Russia stands as one of the world's last major friends of Assad, using its veto power with China this month to block a Security Council resolution condemning the regime for the violence, despite a barrage of criticism.
With the death toll rising to more than 6 000 according to figures from the opposition, Lavrov held direct talks with Assad in Damascus earlier this month, refusing to join growing calls on him to step down.
Although his mission was widely criticised by Arab nations and produced no tangible concessions, Lavrov has cited it as an example for the need for further dialogue.
A new version of the Security Council resolution is due to be voted on in the UN General Assembly on Thursday and is expected to pass.
Russia and China are expected to oppose the new text but no one can veto resolutions in the 193-nation General Assembly, though they carry less weight.
"As far as the resolution is concerned, we prefer not to be guided by the fact that there is a resolution, we will be guided by the substance of [Thursday's] resolution," Lavrov said.
"If the resolution is one-sided and ignores the fact that people are getting killed by the opposition armed group as well, then it will not be helpful," he added.
The General Assembly resolution drawn up by Saudi Arabia and Qatar calls on Assad to put a stop to deadly attacks on civilians, diplomats said.
It also expresses support for the Arab League's plan to end the 11-month crackdown in Syria and calls for the naming of a UN special envoy.
Asked about Russia's position on possible aid corridors into Syria, Lavrov said, "I will meet with [French Foreign Minister] Alain Juppe tomorrow in Vienna and will listen to what he has to say."
France first proposed the idea last November.
In Damascus, dozens of young Syrians gathered in front of the Russian embassy to thank Moscow and Beijing for their support, state television reported on Wednesday.
Assad called the national vote a day after flatly rejecting UN allegations of crimes against humanity, in a move clearly aimed at placating growing global outrage over the bloodshed.