Russia came under renewed attack at the United Nations today over its protection of Syria after President Bashar al-Assad rejected peace proposals by UN envoy Kofi Annan and persevered in a deadly crackdown on protesters.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, addressed the UN Security Council today with clashing views on how to tackle a year-old uprising. While the U.S. administration has said Assad must go, Russia has vetoed two draft resolutions in the past five months seeking to hold Assad accountable and support a political transition.
“The alternative to our unity on these points will be bloody internal conflict with dangerous consequences for the whole region,” Clinton told reporters in New York. Lavrov “will take what he heard here back to Moscow, and we are all waiting to hear from Annan as to his advice about the best way forward.”
Lavrov countered that “ultimatums would not work.”
“It is not honest when people say everything depends on Russia,” he told reporters. “I would also like to hope that the U.S can resolve the Middle East crisis. Today’s problems of the world cannot be resolved by the desire or efforts by one country alone.”
Addressing the Security Council earlier, Lavrov criticized what Russia sees as “risky recipes of geopolitical engineering” put forward at the UN. He was critical of “making hasty demands for regime change, imposing unilateral sanctions designed to trigger economic difficulties and social tensions in the country.”
In a signal that Russia’s allegiance to Assad may not be unconditional, Lavrov said there “is no doubt whatsoever that the Syria authorities bear a huge share of responsibility for the current situation.” He also said the international community cannot “ignore” that for a “long time now” Assad has been fighting “combat units,” not unarmed men.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said he “listened very attentively” to Lavrov and found him ‘ambiguous’’ in giving support for Annan’s mission. What is still needed is a “clear reference” to the Arab League plan that envisages Assad handing power to a deputy to pave the way for free elections, Juppe said.
The gathering of the world’s top diplomats in New York follows the failed mission to Syria over the weekend by Annan, another sign that the international community is running out of options over how to stop the violence.
“How cynical that, even as Assad was receiving former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the Syrian Army was conducting a fresh assault on Idlib and continuing its aggression in Hama, Homs, and Rastan,” Clinton told the Security Council in the presence of Lavrov and European foreign ministers.
More than 7,500 people have died since anti-government protests started in March 2011, according to UN estimates. The turmoil has sent the value of the Syrian pound plummeting.
Annan met twice with Assad, who rejected overtures to talk with opposition groups he labeled terrorists. Addressing the Security Council, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for Assad to respond to Anna’s requests “within the next few days.”
At least 108 people were killed yesterday by government forces, the Local Coordination Committees of Syria said on its website. Al Arabiya reported 51 people died in Syria today, mostly in the central city of Homs.
Pressure on Russia
Clinton’s meeting with Lavrov today was their first since Feb. 3, when Clinton failed to convince Russia not to veto a second draft resolution condemning Assad.
Russia, which sells weapons to Syria, is facing growing international pressure to sever ties with a Soviet-era ally. Russia’s only military base outside the former Soviet Union is a naval maintenance and supply center in the Syrian port of Tartus on the Mediterranean Sea.
There are few indications that the Russia and the Western allies are closer to narrowing their differences. On March 9, negotiations broke down over a proposed U.S.-drafted resolution that “demands an immediate halt to all forms of violence in Syria.” That was the third attempt to get the UN’s decision- making body to agree on action on Syria.
Annan cautioned Assad yesterday against ignoring the democratic changes of the “Arab Spring” that led to the toppling of leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. He told reporters he cited an African proverb to the Syrian president: “You cannot turn the wind, so turn the sail.”
Al Jazeera television reported women and children were being butchered in the Karam Al-Zaitoun neighborhood of Homs. Video showed a room filled with dead children covered with blankets, their necks showing signs of knife wounds.
The Syrian National Council, in a statement posted on its Facebook page, denounced the “grisly crime” in Homs and called on the Security Council to take the necessary measures to stop all kinds of “genocide.”
Syria’s state-run news agency SANA said the images from Homs were of “crimes committed by the armed terrorist groups who kidnapped and killed civilians in Homs.”
“We are going to press ahead for humanitarian access,” Annan told reporters at the airport in Ankara. “It’s not going to be easy, it will take time, hopefully not too much time because we can’t afford to let this thing drag on for too long, neither will it be solved today.”
-- Editors: Terry Atlas, Larry Liebert
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