Syrian collapse 'threatens region'
Syria faces "hell" if no deal is struck to end 21 months of bloodshed, an international mediator said today, but his talks in Russia brought no sign of a breakthrough after a week of intense diplomacy.
UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov both said there was still a chance for a negotiated solution to the conflict, which has killed more than 44,000 people and set world powers against one another.
But Mr Lavrov repeated Russia's stance that President Bashar al-Assad's removal cannot be a precondition for a political solution, saying that such demands were "wrong" and that the opposition's refusal to talk to the government was a "dead end".
Mr Brahimi said: "If the only alternative is really hell or a political process, then all of us must work ceaselessly for a political process. It is difficult, it is very complicated, but there is no other choice."
Mr Lavrov issued a similar exhortation in a joint appearance at an ornate mansion where he meets foreign dignitaries, saying: "The chance for a political settlement remains and it is our obligation to make maximal use of that chance."
The United Nations envoy for the Syria crisis has warned that further deterioration of conditions in the country could send an unbearable stream of refugees into neighbouring countries. “If you have a panic in Damascus and if you have one million people leaving Damascus in a panic, they can go to only two places — Lebanon and Jordan,” he said.
Mr Brahimi said that both countries could break if faced with half a million refugees.
Neither official gave indication of significant progress toward resolving the 21-month-old conflict in which an estimated 40,000 people have died.
Mr Lavrov said the demand by the Syrian opposition that Mr Assad step down as a precondition to talks was “incorrect and counterproductive”.
“The price for that precondition will be the loss of more Syrian lives,” Mr Lavrov said.
Russia is one of Mr Assad’s strongest backers, although its top officials have recently expressed some resignation to the idea that he could fall.
Still, Russia opposes international calls for his overthrow and wants a negotiated solution to the conflict.