Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned the U.S. and European nations not to encourage anti-government protesters in Syria by holding out the prospect of military support like they provided in Libya.
“It is not in the interests of anyone to send messages to the opposition in Syria or elsewhere that if you reject all reasonable offers we will come and help you as we did in Libya,” Lavrov, 61, said yesterday during an interview in Moscow. “It’s a very dangerous position.”
Rallies against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule have swept Syria, inspired by the uprisings that ousted authoritarian rulers in Egypt and Tunisia. Syrian security forces have killed more than 1,100 people and detained at least 10,000, according to human-rights groups. The government blames the protests on Islamic militants and foreign provocateurs.
Russia abstained from the March 18 vote by the United Nations Security Council that authorized the use of force to protect civilians from Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s forces, saying the resolution might lead to a “large-scale military intervention.” Operations led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have stretched far beyond the stated goal of enforcing a no-fly zone, Lavrov said.
President Dmitry Medvedev discussed the situation in the Middle East among other issues today in Rome at a trilateral meeting with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, said Natalia Timakova, the Russian president’s spokeswoman.
UN Involvement Opposed
The U.K., France, Germany and Portugal asked the Security Council on May 25 to demand that Syria end attacks on peaceful protesters and address their grievances. The European Union last week imposed a travel ban and asset freeze on the “highest level of leadership,” a week after the U.S. froze the assets of Assad and six top officials.
Russia opposes Security Council involvement in Syria, Lavrov said.
“First of all, the situation doesn’t present a threat to international peace and security,” he said. “Second, Syria is a very important country in the Middle East and destabilizing Syria would have repercussions far beyond its borders.”
While Russia is opposed to international intervention, it supports the need for change in Syria and has encouraged Assad to implement promised reforms, Lavrov said.
Assad on April 21 ordered the lifting of a 48-year-old state of emergency, abolished the Supreme State Security Court and issued a decree allowing peaceful protests. This week he offered a “general amnesty” covering political detainees.
“We are gratified that our appeals have been heard,” Lavrov said. “Recently he published a draft of a new constitution, he declared an amnesty for political prisoners, and I think this should calm the situation.”
Protests continued after the amnesty decree, issued late on May 31, as opposition leaders said it was a ploy to gain time.
Lavrov called for the Libyan resolution to be a unique one and said Russia will demand that any future UN mandates be more specific.
“If somebody would like to get authorization to use force to achieve a shared goal by all of us, they would have to specify in the resolution who this somebody is, who is going to use this authorization, what the rules of engagement are and the limits on the use of force,” Lavrov said.
Russia has stepped up diplomatic efforts to help forge a Libyan settlement that would persuade Qaddafi to step down and end NATO military action, Lavrov said.
‘Acceptable to All’
At the Group of Eight summit last week in France, U.S. President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy asked Medvedev to help negotiate a deal acceptable to coalition forces, the African Union and Libyan rebels, Lavrov said.
Medvedev spoke by phone with South African President Jacob Zuma before and after Zuma flew to Tripoli, Libya’s capital, on May 30, Lavrov said. The Russian president also told his special envoy for Libya, Mikhail Margelov, to go to the port city of Benghazi for talks with opposition leaders as soon as possible.
Any solution must “be acceptable to all Libyans,” Lavrov said, echoing comments Zuma made after returning from Tripoli in a trip backed by the African Union.
“I hope that the accumulated effort of all those who want to see an end to the hostilities and the beginning of the construction of a new Libya will bring results,” he said.
The U.S. and its partners, including France and the U.K., launched the first attacks against Qaddafi’s forces on March 19. NATO took command on March 31 and yesterday extended its mission for 90 days in what Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said was “a clear message” that “we are determined to continue our operation to protect the people of Libya.”
Bedouin or Trial
The air raids killed 718 civilians and wounded 4,067 from March 19 to May 26, Agence France Presse reported, citing a spokesman for Libya’s government.
Russia isn’t involved in negotiating “any deals of immunity or guarantees” for Qaddafi, though others are considering a range of options, he said.
“I can tell you without revealing too many secrets that the leaders of countries who can influence the situation are actively discussing the possibilities,” Lavrov said.
Officials at the G-8 summit discussed options for Qaddafi ranging “from a quiet life as a simple Bedouin in the Libyan desert to the fate of Milosevic in the Hague,” Margelov said in an interview yesterday, referring to the war crimes trial of former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic.
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