French President Francois Hollande said he hoped for a “political solution” within weeks to a two-year conflict in Syria, ending the escalation of violence, as he prepared for talks with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
Hollande, who is making his first visit to Russia since his election last year, said he’ll discuss the prospects for a power transition in Syria with Putin during a meeting today in Moscow. Speaking in an interview broadcast on Echo Moskvy radio station, Hollande said his country isn’t sending weapons to Syrian rebels fighting to topple the government of President Bashar al-Assad even as other nations may be arming opposition forces.
“Syria’s opposition is broadening, it’s becoming more legitimate and accepting a share of responsibility for the country’s future,” Hollande said in the interview, according to the Russian translation of his remarks. “President Putin has created conditions for the Syrian opposition to establish contact with the authorities.”
Russia hasn’t ceased its arms exports to Syria’s government during the conflict and has blocked United Nations sanctions against the regime. It also rejects opposition demands for the Syrian leader’s resignation before any transition talks. The uprising that started in March 2011 has killed about 70,000 people, according to UN estimates.
Russia, which has Soviet-era ties with Syria, is seeking a leading role as a mediator. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov received his Syrian counterpart, Walid Al-Muallem, in Moscow this week. Arab League Secretary-General Nabil El-Arabi, who met Lavrov Feb. 20 along with the foreign ministers of Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon, said all sides agreed to seek a political solution to the civil war.
Russia is willing to host peace talks, Lavrov has said. Syria’s government is prepared to negotiate with the opposition, including armed groups, Muallem said Feb. 25 in Moscow.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Feb. 26 Syrian rebels should be given aid if Assad refuses to join talks and goes on killing his own people. France is complying with Europe’s arm embargo against Syria, Hollande said.
Other nations will be sending arms to rebels “if we don’t find a political solution,” he said today. “France is true to its word. There’s an embargo that was imposed by Europe and we are abiding by that embargo. But if one of the sides needs weapons, their delivery by other countries can’t be ruled out, and sometimes not into the best hands.”