Russia willing to back ultimatum-free UN statement on Syria

AFP , Tuesday 20 Mar 2012

Russia said Tuesday it could back either a UN Security Council statement or a resolution on peace envoy Kofi Annan's proposal on ending the Syria crisis as long as it contained no ultimatums

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, (Photo: AP).

"We are ready to back the mission of UN and Arab League representative Kofi Annan and the proposals to the government and opposition to Syria," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters.

"We are ready to support his proposals to the UN Security Council, and not only in the form of a statement but also a resolution," he said.

The announcement came as Western powers weighed a statement strong enough to condemn Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's crackdown on the opposition, while not antagonising Russia, Syria's top ally.

But Lavrov also stressed that the proposals Annan made to Assad during their meetings in Damascus this month had still not been published and needed to be put up for an open debate at the Security Council.

"First of all, these proposals must be published," Lavrov said after holding talks with his Lebanese counterpart Adnan Mansur.

"Second of all, the Security Council should approve them not as an ultimatum but with consideration for the work that is ongoing, and approve them as the basis for Kofi Annan's continuing efforts to achieve agreement between all Syrians," he added.

The UN Security Council was expected later Tuesday to discuss and possibly vote on a Western-drafted statement that diplomats said called for possible "further measures" if Assad failed to carry out Annan's proposals.

The United States on Monday welcomed a recent "evolution" in Russia's public position on ending the year-long conflict -- a comment referring to Moscow's decision to block two past resolutions condemning Annan. Lavrov countered on Tuesday that Russia's position had been consistent throughout.

"You cannot possibly talk about a revision in our position if you look at the sequence of our statements," Lavrov said. "I simply invite you to compare the statements we were making from the very start on the Syrian crisis to what we are saying today."

Russia had initially vowed to block any resolution that could possibly open the way for the type of foreign military intervention it had condemned when unleashed against its other close Arab-world ally Libya.

But it has more recently criticised Annan for failing to follow through on political reforms and refusing to listen to some suggestions from Moscow on ending the bloodshed.

Lavrov said Tuesday he felt it was the West that had taken a more realistic approach to the crisis. "We detect more realism in their position," said Lavrov. "It is approaching what is (really) happening in Syria."

Russia has also upset the West by refusing to give up billion-dollar arms contracts that make it Syria's most important military ally.

A report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said on Monday Russian arms had helped Syria boost its weapons imports by 580 percent between 2002 and 2011.

Russia's top general said Tuesday such deliveries would continue.

"Everything that is under contract will be delivered because no sanctions have been applied," Chief of Staff General Nikolai Makarov was quoted as saying by the state RIA Novosti news agency.

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