Leaders of a bloc grouping China, Russia and Central Asian states called on Thursday for dialogue to address the violence in Syria, all but guaranteeing that there will be no end to the deadlock in discussions at the U.N. Security Council.
Russia and China - permanent members of the U.N. Security Council with the power to veto resolutions - have stymied efforts by Western powers to condemn or call for the removal of President Bashar al-Assad, whose forces, the U.N. says, have killed at least 10,000 people in more than a year of unrest.
Troops and militiamen loyal to Assad were accused by opponents on Thursday of the massacre of at least 78 people at Mazraat al-Qabeer, near Hama, following the killing of 108 people, mostly women and children, in Houla last month.
"The Shanghai group member states are against military interference in the affairs of this region (Middle East and North Africa), enforced 'handover of power', unilateral sanctions," a joint statement from leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation said.
"Member states stress the need to stop any violence on the territory of Syria wherever it is coming from, they respect broad nationwide dialogue, based on independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty of Syria."
U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, the former U.N. secretary-general, is to brief the Security Council in New York on Thursday. U.N. diplomats said they expected Annan to present a new proposal to rescue his failing peace plan by creating a "contact group" of world and regional powers.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cheng Guoping said on Thursday that both China and Russia would remain opposed to foreign intervention.
"The Syrian issue should be resolved based on envoy Annan's six-point proposal within the U.N. framework," Cheng told a news conference. "You can't say that because you dislike a country's system, you can then think of ways to overturn its government."
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, have urged international support for Annan's peace plan, despite calls from Arab and Western states for a tougher response.
Iran And Afghanistan
The joint statement was issued on the last day of the two-day annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, made up of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Iran, India, Pakistan and others attend the summits, but not as full members.
The six leaders also warned that "any attempts to solve the Iranian problem by force are not acceptable and lead to unpredictable consequences, threatening stability and security in the region and in the world as a whole".
Iran is at the centre of a standoff over its disputed nuclear programme, which the West suspects is aimed at developing nuclear weapons. Iran says its aim is the peaceful production of electricity.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation leaders called for settling "the Iran nuclear problem through political and diplomatic means".
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday that China opposed any Middle East country acquiring nuclear weapons, state news agency Xinhua reported.
China and Iran have close energy and trade ties, and Beijing has repeatedly resisted U.S.-led demands to impose tougher economic sanctions on Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions.
The joint statement also said that "the national reconciliation in Afghanistan should happen under the leadership of Afghans and by Afghans themselves".
Hu said in an interview with state media on Wednesday that the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation wants to play a bigger role in Afghanistan. The future of Afghanistan, struggling to end an insurgency by Taliban militants despite the presence of U.S.-led international forces for more than a decade, was one of the main issues at the meeting.
Hu said on Thursday that the organisation had agreed to allow Afghanistan in as an observer state and Turkey in as a dialogue partner.