Russia warns West against meddling in Syria, urges search for solution to crisis

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Syrians themselves should decide the fate of their leader. (Reuters)

Russia on Wednesday warned against outside interference in Syria, as Britain and France expressed strong doubt Damascus would live up to promises to end its violent repression of dissidents.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev wants the search for a solution to the Syrian crisis to continue, including within the United Nations Security Council, the Kremlin said Wednesday.

Medvedev urged “the necessity of continuing − including at the U.N. Security Council − a search for coordinated approaches to help the Syrians regulate the crisis themselves” in a phone call with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

He added this must happen “without outside interference, with complete respect for the sovereignty of Syria.”

But the White House on Wednesday rejected Russia’s call for talks between President Bashar al-Assad’s government and Syrian rebels who are reeling under a brutal assault from government forces.

“From the (earliest) days of this situation in Syria, there was an opportunity for the Assad regime to engage in dialogue with the opposition,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

“Rather than take that opportunity, Assad brutally cracked down on his own people. We don’t think that that opportunity is available anymore.

“It is clear that Assad has chosen a path and that choice has resulted in the deaths of many Syrians, including innocent children.”

Meanwhile, U.N. rights chief Navi Pillay called for urgent action to protect Syrian civilians caught in 11 months of civil strife while the European Union made contingency plans in case it needed to evacuate its citizens from Syria.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned the West against behaving “like a bull in a china shop,” saying Syrians themselves should be allowed to decide their own fate.

“Of course we condemn violence from whichever side it comes, but we must not behave like a bull in a china shop. We need to allow people to decide their own fate independently,” Russian news agencies quoted him as saying.

The outcome of any talks on ending the bloodshed in Syria must not be predetermined, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday, sticking to its opposition to Western and Arab pressure for Assad to cede power.

Lavrov’s remarks at a news conference in Moscow after talks with Pakistan’s foreign minister suggested Russia, which vetoed a draft U.N. Security Council resolution supporting an Arab League call for Assad to quit, has not changed its stance on Syria following a meeting with Assad in Damascus on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

Lavrov said that Syrians themselves should decide the fate of their leader.

“Any outcome of national dialogue should become the result of agreement between the Syrians themselves and should be acceptable to all the Syrians,” Lavrov told reporters, sidestepping a direct question from a reporter about Assad’s fate, according to AFP.

Lavrov said that Assad has commissioned his Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa to start an integrated dialogue and to carry out reforms in the country, Al Arabiya correspondent in Moscow said.

The Russian top diplomat, who was given a hero’s welcome by Assad’s supporters in Damascus, said that recalling envoys from Damascus did not help promote the Arab League’s plan.

“I do not think that recalling ambassadors helps create conditions that would be favorable to the realization of the Arab League’s initiative,” he said after several Western and Arab states recalled their envoys from Syria.

Britain and France

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Wednesday he had little confidence in promises made by Syria to Russia over the violent crackdown by the regime in Damascus.

“I think we have very little confidence in that,” Cameron told parliament when asked about Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian capital on Tuesday.

Cameron said the Russians had to “look at their conscience and realise what they have done” after Russia and China vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria at the weekend.

“Frankly, Russia and China set themselves against Arab opinion and world opinion in passing what would have been a strong and good U.N. resolution,” he said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy Wednesday urged his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev to give full support to an Arab League peace plan to persuade Bashar al-Assad to quit as Syria's leader.

During a phone conversation, Sarkozy also told Medvedev of “the necessity to increase the pressure on the Syrian regime to cease its brutal repression of the Syria people,” said a statement from the French president's office.

After Tuesday’s talks Lavrov said Russia was prepared to work to end the crisis under a peace plan put forward by the Arab League and that Assad was ready for dialogue with all political forces.

The latest Arab League plan would see Assad transferring power to his deputy and a government of national unity formed within two months.

Russia’s veto of a Security Council resolution on Syria goes far beyond mere protection for a close ally and arms buyer -- it showed Moscow’s determination to crush what it sees as a Western crusade to use the United Nations to topple unfriendly regimes.

Russia’s move, analysts and diplomats say, was a diplomatic counteroffensive responding to an unusually active period for the Security Council. Last year the 15-nation panel twice adopted resolutions authorizing “all necessary measures” -- diplomatic code for military force -- in Libya and Ivory Coast.

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