Syria's allies urge Assad to talk


Syrian allies China and Russia have voiced serious concern over the spiralling crisis in Syria and called for immediate talks as pressure mounted on president Bashar Assad to end the deadly crackdown on dissent.

Mr Assad is facing severe international isolation stemming from his crackdown on an eight-month-old uprising, which the UN estimates has killed 3,500 people.

The Arab League suspended Damascus on Wednesday and threatened economic sanctions if the violence continues.

Russia’s foreign minister said the situation there looked like a civil war.

China and Russia have kept up their long-standing ties with Damascus, however. In October they vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that threatened sanctions against Syria.

But today, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin appeared to suggest China might support a resolution in the future.

It depends on whether these actions will help to resolve the tensions in Syria and facilitate the resolution of disputes through political dialogue,” he said.

He called on both sides in the conflict to work together.

Later in the day, Russia urged Syria and the opposition to start talks.

“We think that it is necessary to start talks on the peaceful settlement in Syria by all parties,” Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said.

Mr Lavrov said an attack yesterday by Syrian soldiers who deserted and sided with the opposition “already looks like a civil war”.

Prominent Syrian leaders who visited Moscow on Tuesday insisted they would not talk to Dr Assad.

The crisis appears to be spiralling out Dr Assad’s control as attacks by army defectors increase and world leaders look at possibilities for a Syrian regime without him.

Germany, Britain and France are pressing for a UN resolution that would strongly condemn Syria’s human rights violations. The three European countries decided to move ahead with the General Assembly resolution after the Arab League confirmed its suspension.

The growing calls for Dr Assad’s removal are a severe blow to a family dynasty that has ruled Syria for four decades.

Any change to the leadership could transform some of the most enduring alliances in the Middle East and beyond.

Syria’s tie to Iran is among the most important relationships in the Middle East, providing the Iranians with a foothold on Israel’s border and a critical link to Tehran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Palestinian Hamas in Gaza.