Russia urged not to veto call for Syrian regime change


DIPLOMATIC EFFORTS to secure a strong UN resolution on Syria were stepped up yesterday as western powers pressed Russia not to veto an Arab-backed call for political change in Damascus.

French foreign minister Alain Juppé, speaking before he left Paris for a round of talks in New York, said he would apply “maximum pressure” on security council members to call on President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

A European-Arab resolution written by France and Britain in consultation with Qatar and Morocco demands a “political transition” including the departure from power of the Syrian president. “We’re blocked by a certain number of countries, principally by Russia, which is opposed to any resolution,” Mr Juppé said. “What is happening in Syria is a real scandal. The butchery is continuing . . . There are hundreds of deaths every week. It’s not acceptable.”

France has been prominent in western efforts to try to force Assad to end a crackdown on protests and has suggested a need to set up zones to protect civilians – the first proposal by a western power for outside intervention on the ground.

Escalating bloodshed prompted the Arab League to suspend the work of its monitoring mission on Saturday. Its proposals for an end to the Syrian crisis are the basis for the European-Arab resolution, which could be voted on by the end of the week.

Asked whether Russia could be persuaded not to use its veto – as it did to allow a no-fly zone over Libya last year – Mr Juppé said: “We’re going to try.”

The league, he said, had “drafted a plan which envisages a political transition and a stepping aside of Bashar al-Assad, who has lost all legitimacy . . . This president has blood on his hands. It’s not possible for him to remain in power.”

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and British foreign secretary William Hague were also due in New York yesterday to press for a tough resolution. “The security council must act so as to make it clear to the Syrian regime that the international community considers its acts a threat to peace and security,” Mrs Clinton said.

Moscow has strong links with Syria and regards the Assad regime as one of its main allies in the Middle East. The Russian foreign ministry announced on Monday that the Syrian government had accepted an invitation to peace talks, but the opposition National Syrian Council said it would not take part.

Mr Juppé ruled out full-scale foreign intervention in Syria, saying it “could lead to civil war”. He firmly denied that France was arming the opposition or had special forces on the ground in the country.