Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Russian FM obtains promises in Damascus but their effects remain to be seen

Bashar Assad welcomes Russia's top spy Mikhail Fradkov (m) and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Russia won a promise from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday to bring an end to bloodshed in Syria. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who visited Syria accompanied by Russia's top spy, said Russia now wanted to resolve Syria's crisis in line with an Arab plan Moscow and Beijing vetoed in the U.N. Security Council.
"The president of Syria assured us he was 'completely committed to the task of stopping violence regardless of where it may come from'," Interfax quoted Lavrov as saying after his meeting with Assad. Russia has supported an Arab League peace proposal for Syria floated last November envisaging a withdrawal of troops from cities and towns, release of prisoners, and reforms. It was not clear from Lavrov's remarks whether Russia was now also backing the League's call on Assad to step down.
Lavrov said Assad assured him he was committed to halting bloodshed by both sides and that he was ready to seek dialogue with all political groups in the country. However, the question remains what Assad's promise is worth. Assad made similar promises in the past, which have been brushed off by opposition forces as missing any substance. Opposition activists also said that government forces renewed shelling of the central city of Homs on Tuesdapry just before Lavrov's arrival, killing some 19 people in this city, where according to them over 300 have been killed in the last five days. There were also reports from residents of shelling and fighting on Tuesday between government and rebel forces in Hama, another urban stronghold of anti-Assad sentiment.
The United States shut its embassy and said all staff had left Syria due to worsening security in the country, which has also been hit by suicide bombings in Damascus. Also the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) said its members were recalling their ambassadors from Damascus and expelling Syrian envoys from their own capitals.European Union states followed up their denunciation of the veto by preparing a new round of sanctions on Syria, EU diplomats said on Tuesday, with the focus on central bank assets and trade in precious metals, gold and diamonds. Also France, Italy, Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain recalled their ambassadors from Syria. Japan was considering reducing the number of its diplomatic staff in Damascus.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, an ex-ally who has turned against Assad, described the U.N. vetoes as "a fiasco for the civilised world" and said Ankara was preparing a new initiative with those who oppose the Syrian government.
U.S. President Barack Obama said that, however hard Western countries are prepared to lean on Assad diplomatically, they still had no intention of using force to topple him, as they did against Muammar Gaddafi in Libya last year."I think it is very important for us to try to resolve this without recourse to outside military intervention. And I think that's possible," he told NBC's Today show.

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