Russia said it agreed to step up pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government to return to the negotiating table, as the United Nations warned the risk of sectarian war was increasing daily.
Kofi Annan, the UN special envoy to Syria, said that the level of violence has “escalated” and “the specter of total civil war, with a worrying sectarian dimension, grows by the day,” he told a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers today in Doha, Qatar.
Speaking to reporters later, Annan said he will brief the UN about Syria on June 7. Assad “must act now to implement all points” of the UN’s six-point plan to resolve the crisis, he said.
Annan spoke after President Vladimir Putin was pressed on Russia’s response to the Syrian conflict yesterday in Berlin and Paris during his first foreign trip since he returned to the presidency. Russia and China have blocked UN Security Council resolutions pushing for stronger sanctions on the Assad regime.
“With our German and French partners, we agreed to increase our work” with the respective sides in the Syrian conflict, Yuri Ushakov, a former ambassador to the U.S. who advises Putin on foreign policy, told reporters in Moscow today.
France, Germany, the U.K. and U.S. accuse the Assad regime of undermining Annan’s peace effort with continued deadly military assaults against opponents of the regime. A massacre of more than 100 people in Houla, including women and children, hasn’t broken the Security Council impasse.
The UN Human Rights Council has called for a probe into the massacre, which it said was carried out by “pro-regime elements” and government forces. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Olso yesterday that Russia’s supply of weapons to Syria is propping up the regime.
France disagrees with Russia over “who is responsible for the violence and over the need for Assad to leave,” President Francois Hollande told a joint press conference in Paris with Putin.
Putin said he doesn’t support either side in the Syrian conflict, and that sanctions aren’t “efficient.” It’s “counter-productive” to conclude that Annan’s peace mission has failed, he said yesterday.
“We need to compel both the authorities and the opposition to get the political process going,” said Ushakov, Putin’s foreign policy adviser. “We’re prepared to do that, and we called on our partners to also use their areas of influence to actively weigh on the relevant forces and leaders.”
Western and other leaders have called on Assad to stand down and quit the country, saying he has lost the legitimacy to lead.
Burhan Ghalioun, head of the Syrian National Council, said at the Arab League meeting in Doha that the opposition will accept Russians helping Assad leave the country and is willing to guarantee Russian interests in Syria. Arab League ministers called on Syrian opposition factions to meet in Cairo as they work on steps toward a political transition.
Ministers called on member states to withdraw their ambassadors from Syria and urged the UN to find ways to protect Syrian civilians, Kuwait Foreign Minister Sabah Khalid al-Sabah said in Doha.
The Syrians have failed to implement the first point of Annan’s six-point plan, and “are just playing for time,” Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani, said in Doha.
“We have lost all confidence with the other side, the Syrian side,” he said. “The killing machine is still doing its work.”