Russia warns against attack on Syria
RUSSIAN Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday warned the West against any unilateral action on Syria after US President Barack Obama said US forces could act if the Syrian leader deployed chemical weapons against rebels trying to topple him.
Russia and China have opposed military intervention in Syria throughout 17 months of bloodshed and vetoed three United Nations (UN) Security Council resolutions backed by Western and Arab states that would have raised pressure on Damascus to end the violence. SA supported the first resolution, but abstained from the second, saying the Syrian regime was not the only transgressor in the conflict.
Mr Lavrov spoke at a meeting with China’s top diplomat a day after Mr Obama, in some of his strongest language yet, said US forces could move against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad if he used chemical weapons against insurgents.
Russia and China base their diplomatic co-operation on "the need to strictly adhere to the norms of international law and the principles contained in the UN Charter, and not to allow their violation", Mr Lavrov said at a meeting with Chinese state councillor Dai Bingguo.
"I think this is the only correct path in today’s conditions," he told Mr Dai, who also met Russian President Vladimir Putin and his top security adviser, Nikolai Patrushev, on Monday for consultations that went unannounced by the Kremlin.
Mr Lavrov’s remarks underscored Moscow’s wish to keep international efforts to end Syria’s crisis within the UN, where Russia and China wield clout as two of the five permanent Security Council members with veto power.
Frustrated by the vetoes and by the refusal of Russia and China to join calls for Mr Assad to leave power, the US and other Western and Arab countries are seeking other ways to exert influence on Syria.
Mr Obama said on Monday he had refrained from ordering military engagement in Syria. But when asked whether he might deploy forces, for example to secure Syrian chemical and biological weapons, he said his view could change.
Russia has also expressed concern about Syria’s chemical weapons, saying it had told Damascus that even the threat to use them was unacceptable.
But Mr Lavrov said the Security Council alone could authorise the use of external force against Syria, and warned against imposing "democracy by bombs".
Russian leaders have said they are determined to avoid a repeat of what occurred in Libya last year, when Moscow let North Atlantic Treaty Organisation military operations go ahead by abstaining from a Security Council resolution that authorised air operations. Russian officials then accused the US and its allies of overstepping their mandate and using it to help rebels overthrow veteran leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Russia denies that it is propping up Mr Assad and says it would accept his exit in a political transition decided by the Syrian people, but that his departure must not be a precondition and he must not be pushed out by external forces.
Mr Putin, who has faced frequent US and European criticism over his treatment of dissent, has made opposition to foreign intervention in sovereign states on human rights grounds a central plank of his foreign policy in his new presidency. China has issued similar warnings to the West.
A Syrian delegation led by Qadri Jamil, deputy prime minister for economic affairs, was also in Moscow yesterday and was expected to meet foreign ministry officials. It was Mr Jamil’s second visit this month.
Mr Obama has been reluctant to embroil the US in another war in the Middle East and refuses to arm Syrian rebels, partly for fear that some of those fighting the Iranian-backed president are Islamist radicals equally hostile to the West.
Rebels have seized territory in northern Syria near Turkey, which now hosts 70,000 Syrian refugees. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was quoted as saying that the UN may need to create a "safe zone" in Syria to accommodate those fleeing the fighting, saying his country would not be able to take in more than 100,000 refugees.
But creating a safe haven would require imposing a no-fly zone, an idea which US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said last week was not a "front-burner" issue.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said around 200 people were killed in fighting on Monday. And a Japanese reporter was killed after coming under fire from up to 15 apparently progovernment troops in the conflict-wracked city of Aleppo, her colleague said yesterday.