Last Updated: Thu Sep 06, 2012 13:20 pm (KSA) 10:20 am (GMT)

Putin says Western, Arab powers should ‘reassess’ stance on Syria

Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed that talks should still be able to end the escalating violence in Syria and insisted that the fate of its Soviet-era ally’s new government should be decided by the Syrians themselves. (Reuters)
Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed that talks should still be able to end the escalating violence in Syria and insisted that the fate of its Soviet-era ally’s new government should be decided by the Syrians themselves. (Reuters)

Russian President Vladimir Putin urged Western and Arab powers Thursday to reassess their stance on Syria and ensure the security of its current leadership in any power transition process.

“Why should Russia be the only one reassessing its position? Perhaps our negotiating partners should reassess their position,” Putin told Russia Today television.

“Because if you recall what happened in recent years... you will see that far from all of our partners’ initiatives ended the way they wanted them to,” he said in reference to Western involvement in countries such as Libya.

The Russian leader stressed that talks should still be able to end the escalating violence and insisted that the fate of its Soviet-era ally’s new government should be decided by the Syrians themselves.

He also made the security of the regime’s negotiating team and leadership a condition of any transition process. Putin made no reference to President Bashar al-Assad himself.

“To us, the most important thing is to end the violence, to force all the sides in the conflict... to sit down at the negotiating table, determine the future and ensure the security of all the participants of the domestic political process,” Putin said.

“Only then move on to these practical steps about the internal organization of the country itself.”

Russia has stirred Western and Arab world anger by vetoing three U.N. Security Council resolutions providing for sanctions against Assad during the 18-month conflict and accused the United States of openly pursuing “regime change.”

Putin dismissed criticism that Russia was shielding Assad by using its U.N. veto and supplying his army with arms.

“We understand perfectly well that changes there are needed, but believe that this does not mean that these changes should be bloody,” said Putin.

“We have an equal amount of respect for all,” he stressed.

Russia has been holding periodic consultations in Moscow with representatives of Syria’s various opposition groups.

But its first meeting with the Syrian National Council in July ended with the umbrella group accusing Moscow of inciting more bloodshed through its stance.

France aids rebel-held Syrian cities

Meanwhile, France has started providing direct aid and money to five rebel-held Syrian cities as it intensifies efforts to weaken President Assad, in the first such move by a western power, a diplomatic source said Wednesday.

The French aid comes as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon criticized the Security Council on Wednesday for failing to take action to protect Syrians facing violence that has led to thousands of deaths.

Amid mounting calls for the international community to do more to prevent bloodshed, France - Syria's onetime colonial ruler - has pushed to secure “liberated zones” in Syria.

France has increased its contacts with armed opposition groups, and started giving aid last Friday to local citizens’ councils in five cities outside the government’s control, the diplomatic source said. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius promised last week that such aid was in the pipeline.

The aid is notably helping restore water supplies, bakeries and schools affected by Syria’s civil war, with the aim of helping rebel-held areas run themselves, the diplomatic official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the French actions amid Syria's violence.

France’s allies are interested in providing similar aid, the official said. He would not name the cities or explain how the aid is being provided, citing security reasons. He said the cities house a total of 700,000 residents and have been outside control of President Bashar Assad’s regime for between one and five months.

French officials have acknowledged providing communications and other non-lethal equipment to Syrian rebel forces, but say they won’t provide weapons without international agreement. France played a leading role in the international campaign against Libya’s dictator Muammar Qaddafi last year.

In January, the death toll from the Syrian conflict - which began in March 2011 as a peaceful protest against President Bashar Assad’s regime - was approaching 6,000. Activists now put the death toll at between 23,000 and 26,000.

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