June 4, 2012
June 4, 2012
Syria will top the agenda on Monday in the first summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and the EU since he returned to the Kremlin last month, as violent crackdown in Syria, Moscow’s closest ally, leaves more deaths and injuries.
U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, meanwhile, has demanded a “serious review” of deadlocked efforts to end the Syria bloodshed.
As many as 37 people have been killed by the Syrian forces on Sunday, mostly in the outskirts of Damascus, Al Arabiya reported citing activists at the Local Coordination Committees.
European diplomats called Monday meeting at a lavish estate on the outskirts of Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg a chance to get reacquainted with the Russian leader, in power for 12 years and now formally in charge of foreign policy again.
But the crisis in Syria, where Moscow has blunted Western efforts to condemn President Bashar al-Assad and push him from power, may overshadow the talks at the twice-yearly summit.
Hopes in Annan peace plan
Both Russia and Europe still have hope in Annan’s U.N.-backed peace plan to end 15 months of bloodshed that Western nations blame on Assad, according to Reuters.
But EU nations wish Russia would press the Syrian leader to withdraw weaponry and halt attacks as demanded by the plan, and want him to step aside to make way for a political transition.
Russia says it is not protecting Assad, who has given Moscow its firmest Middle East foothold, but that the Syrian leader’s exit cannot be a precondition for political dialogue.
Putin ceded no ground in remarks during visits to Berlin and Paris on Friday, placing an accent on rebel violence, criticizing sanctions and saying political decisions could not be forced on Syria from outside.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Sunday, said in a statement: “Russia’s role is crucial for the success of Annan’s plan.”
The EU wanted to “work closely with Russia to find a way to end the violence and support” the plan, said Ashton. The statement said she spoke to Annan by phone on Sunday and that they agreed the crisis had reached a “critical point.”
Lavrov set a constructive tone in his own phone call with Annan, saying that to support the plan Moscow “will be ready to consider various scenarios of further work” that would help to coordinate international efforts on Syria, his ministry said.
However, when asked whether he expected the summit to narrow the gap on Syria, Lavrov told reporters: “I don’t think so.”
Annan has demanded ‘serious review’ of Syria deadlock
Meanwhile, Annan has demanded a “serious review” of deadlocked efforts to end the Syria bloodshed, signaling that even his Nobel Peace prize-winning patience is wearing thin.
Diplomats said Annan, a former U.N. secretary general, was stepping up pressure on the international powers to put some muscle into their support for his peace plan or find a Plan B.
The massacre of more than 100 children, women and men in al-Houla, the growing threat of all-out civil war and divisions at the U.N. Security Council — where Russia has refused to allow any hint of sanctions — have all highlighted the failure of the international community to pressure Assad.
“The time is coming, if it is not already here, for a serious review,” Annan told Arab League ministers in Doha on Saturday, according to AFP.
“The international community must decide what it does next. From my consultations with many actors, I sense a clear recognition that things cannot continue as they are. I agree,” he added.
Calling for greater support for his plan — under which weapons and troops should be withdrawn from cities and attacks halted so political talks can start — Annan said: “We must think this through and we must get it right.”
Annan will discuss the Syria crisis at the U.N. Security Council and U.N. General Assembly on Thursday. Diplomats said Annan’s comments were a sign that he can see his peace initiative is failing.
The U.N. says well over 10,000 people have died in the past 15 months of the uprising and the death toll is speeding up again despite the presence of about 300 unarmed U.N. military observers.
“He will not admit failure, every word that Kofi Annan says is very measured,” said one senior diplomat at the U.N. “But as everyone — from the United States to Russia — has backed the Annan plan, everyone is noting his comments now and can see the message.”
The Arab League has called on the Security Council to approve military action to protect civilians. Permanent council members Russia and China have already vetoed two resolutions that just hinted at sanctions.
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said action outside the council may have to be considered because everyone can see “the wheels coming off of this bus.”
But U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has insisted that any military action would need U.N. backing.
The U.N. observer mission mandate runs out on July 20 but Annan has also indicated that quick decisions are now needed.
“If regional and international divisions play out in Syria, the Syrian people and the region — your region — will pay the price,” he warned the Arab ministers.
Source: Alarabiya with agencies