Russia, US still divided over Syria after talks |
Gulf Times - 30 June, 2012
Russia said after talks with the US that there was a chance of world powers finding common ground at a crisis meeting on Syria today but a US State Department official said differences with Moscow over the conflict remained.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he had sensed a change in tone at talks yesterday evening with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a day after Washington rebuffed calls by Moscow for changes to international mediator Kofi Annan’s plan to set up a national unity government in Syria.
But, making clear differences remained over Annan’s peace plan, Lavrov warned that it would be counterproductive to try to impose the outcome of the political transition process in advance at today’s talks in Geneva.
“We have a very good chance to find common ground at the conference in Geneva tomorrow,” Lavrov told reporters after meeting Clinton in Russia’s second city, St Petersburg.
“I felt a change in Hillary Clinton’s position. There were not ultimatums. Not a word was said that the document we will discuss in Geneva cannot be touched (changed),” he said.
The US State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity after the meeting in St Petersburg, said later that Clinton and Lavrov still intended to attend the talks out of respect for Annan.
But the official said: “There are still areas of difficulty and difference.”
Discussing the chances of an agreement being reached yesterday, the official said: “We may get there, we may not.”
The foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - Russia, the US, China, France and Britain - will attend today’s talks.
Turkey, Kuwait, Qatar, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi will also take part.
Annan will seek backing for a proposal that does not explicitly stipulate that President Bashar al-Assad must step down, but does call for a unity government that would exclude figures who jeopardise stability.
Diplomats said Russia proposed changes on Thursday to Annan’s plan for a national unity government, despite initially supporting it, but the US, Britain and France rejected the amendments.
Annan’s plan said the interim government could include Assad officials and the opposition “but would exclude... those whose continued presence and participation would undermine the credibility of the transition and jeopardise stability and reconciliation.”
Diplomats have said this means Assad could be ruled out of the government but did not automatically exclude his participation. Opposition figures could also be kept out under the same formula, they stressed.
Amid the flurry of diplomatic activity, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was to hold Paris talks with Abdel Basset Sayda, head of the exiled opposition Syrian National Council, which has expressed its own reservations about any transition that does not require Assad to quit.
“The opposition has not yet received the details of the Annan proposal and cannot reply to it,” SNC spokesman George Sabra said on Thursday.
“But its firm position remains that the opposition would not participate in any political project unless Bashar al-Assad is removed from power.”
Rights monitors said violence claimed 183 lives on Thursday, 108 of them civilians,
The heaviest death toll was in the northern Damascus suburb of Douma, where army bombardment killed 40 people, among them six women and six children, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Footage postage by activists on YouTube showed the bloodied body of a young boy with a man standing over it screaming: “Was this child taking up arms against the Assad regime?”
Amid tensions since Syria’s downing of a Turkish jet last week, Syrian troops were massing near the Turkish border, according to the rebel Free Syrian Army,
“There are military units massing 15km or slightly more, from the Turkish border, in the northern region” of Syria, Mustafa al-Sheikh, head of the FSA supreme military council, said by telephone.
Sheikh said that around 2,500 troops backed by 170 tanks and other vehicles were stationed in the border area, roughly 25km from the main northern city of Aleppo, citing estimates from fighters.
On the ground, regime forces pounded the Damascus suburb of Douma and the central city of Homs yesterday, the Observatory said.
At least 25 people were killed - 11 civilians, one rebel and 13 soldiers—the monitoring group said, adding that that anti-regime protests were staged across the country.