Pull troops first, Russia tells Syria

Pull troops first, Russia tells Syria

Pull troops first, Russia tells Syria

The Russian aircraft carrier Kuznetsov docked in the Syrian port of Tartus, along the Mediterranean Sea, in this photo provided by Syrian state news agency SANA on on Jan 8. AFP photo

Russia has criticized the “Friends of the Syrian People” meeting in Istanbul for being one-sided and contradicting the objective of reaching a peaceful settlement, but urged Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to “take steps first and pull troops from city streets.”

“The Syrian government must take the first step and start the troop withdrawal in line with Kofi Annan’s plan,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a briefing in Yerevan. Lavrov added, however, that the opposition needs to reciprocate quickly.

Russian destroyer heads for Syria port: report

Lavrov’s statements come as a Russian navy destroyer will dock at the Syrian port of Tartus in the coming days after setting out on a planned mission to the region, military officials said yesterday. The Smetlivy guided-missile destroyer will arrive shortly at the Russian-leased port in Syria, state news agency Interfax said. The ship will conduct planned exercises near Syria’s coast, navy officials said. In Yerevan, Lavrov said only the U.N. Security Council on which Russia wields a veto power could put any time restrictions on al-Assad’s compliance with the six-point initiative. “Annan has a Security Council mandate and it is up to the U.N. Security Council to decide who is complying with this plan and how,” he said.

In the meantime, NATO’s chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said yesterday the alliance was opposed to providing arms to the Syrian opposition, warning it would fuel a proliferation of weapons in the region. On the ground, a blast ripped through central Damascus near a hotel and a police station yesterday, injuring at least four people and damaging shops, official Syrian television al-Ikhbariya said. Also activists said Syrian troops killed at least three civilians and wounded many as they pounded rebel strongholds in the restive north.

‘One-sided meeting’

Meanwhile, the Russian foreign ministry had issued a statement saying the “Friends of the Syrian People” meeting contradicted the objective of reaching a peaceful settlement by openly siding with the opposition. “The promises and intentions to deliver direct military and logistical support to the armed ... opposition that were voiced in Istanbul unquestionably contradict the goals of a peaceful settlement … in Syria,” the statement said. The ministry blamed the Istanbul meeting for recognizing the Syrian National Council (SNC) as a “legitimate representative” of all Syrians. “Unfortunately, the meeting in Istanbul was as one-sided,” it said.