Russia won't budge on Assad: Syria opposition
DAMASCUS - Agence France-Presse
Russian President Vladimir Putin. AP PhotoSyria's main opposition group failed to convince Russia to drop its support for long-time ally President Bashar al-Assad, as fresh clashes in Damascus challenged his beleaguered regime.
Russia refuses to shift its controversial position on the crisis in Syria, the exiled opposition Syria National Council (SNC) said after talks in Moscow with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
"We have not seen a development in the Russian position. I was here one year ago and the position has not changed," Burhan Ghalioun, SNC executive committee member and its former chief, told reporters after the meeting.
Sixteen months into a conflict which monitors say has cost more than 17,000 lives, mostly civilians, rebel fighters and regime forces clashed in the Damascus district of Qadam, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
In the commercial hub of Aleppo, at least two soldiers were killed as rebels attacked a checkpoint overnight, the Britain-based watchdog said, adding that 82 people were killed in violence across Syria on Tuesday: 30 civilians, 26 soldiers and 26 rebels.
Abdel Basset Sayda, the SNC's new head, earlier compared the conflict in his country to the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
"The events in Syria are not disagreements between the opposition and the government but a revolution," Sayda told Lavrov, whose country has seen itself cast as the last protector of its Arab ally, Syria.
Underlining the gulf between the SNC and Moscow, Lavrov said Russia wanted to understand in the talks if there were "prospects" of the opposition groups uniting and joining a platform for dialogue with the Syrian government.
On Tuesday, Moscow proposed a UN Security Council resolution on Syria that would extend the UN observer mission in the country without any threat of sanctions, diplomats in New York said.
The resolution was sent to the council's other 14 members ahead of a briefing on Wednesday by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan on efforts to revive his peace plan, Russia's deputy UN envoy Igor Pankin told reporters.
Russia is Assad's main ally apart from Iran and has fiercely resisted international action against the Damascus government as proposed by Washington and European powers.
Moscow has repeatedly said Assad's fate is up to the Syrian people and defied calls by the West and the SNC to urge him to step down.
On Tuesday, Annan warned that the conflict could spread across the region as he held talks in Iran and Iraq aimed at shoring up support for his tattered peace plan, starting with an April ceasefire that has failed to materialise.
But in an implicit rebuff, the United States renewed its opposition to any role for Tehran in resolving the conflict.
"I don't think anybody with a straight face could argue that Iran has had a positive impact on developments in Syria," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.
More than four months on from his appointment, Annan has proved powerless to end the violence of an anti-Assad revolt which started in March 2011 with peaceful protests.
"People are outraged, and it is clear that the envoy is biased," SNC member Bashar al-Haraki told AFP. "What has he achieved? Nothing except blood." "We were shocked when he said Iran had to be involved, when Iran is an accomplice to the murders," he said. "Iran has provided experts to monitor communications from the start of the revolt, and later they sent fighters." After meeting Assad in Damascus on Monday, former UN chief Annan said they had agreed on a new political approach to ending the crisis in Syria that he would put to the rebels.
"We discussed the need to end the violence and ways and means of doing so. We agreed an approach which I will share with the armed opposition," said Annan.
At a meeting of world powers in Geneva late last month, a plan was agreed for a political transition in Syria, which did not make an explicit call for the Syrian leader to quit.
Annan admitted in remarks published by French newspaper Le Monde ahead of his Damascus trip that his peace blueprint has so far foundered.
He has previously expressed frustration that while Moscow and Iran are viewed by some as stumbling blocks to peace, "little is said about other countries which send arms, money and have a presence on the ground."