Hollande Clashes With Putin Over Ouster of Syria’s Assad

French President Francois Hollande and Russian President Vladimir Putin disagreed over Syria at a meeting in Paris, with Hollande saying more sanctions are needed to force President Bashar al-Assad from power and Putin saying added pressure on the regime may lead to civil war.

“We have disagreements over who is responsible for the violence and over the need for Assad to leave,” Hollande said at a joint press conference yesterday after a working dinner.

Putin said Russia, which supplies arms to Syria, “has no special military or economic ties” to the country and that Assad has visited Paris more than Moscow. The Syrian leader visited Paris twice while Nicolas Sarkozy was French president, in 2008 and 2009.

Hollande, who was sworn in May 15, said he wasn’t responsible for previous visits to Paris.

“The actions of the Syrian regime are intolerable,” Hollande said. “Any solution to the crisis requires the departure of Assad.”

France, Britain, and the U.S. accuse the Assad regime of undermining Annan’s peace effort with continued deadly military assaults against opponents of the regime. Russia and China have blocked UN Security Council resolutions pushing for stronger sanctions.

Putin said he doesn’t support either side in the Syrian conflict, and that it’s “counter-productive” to conclude that Annan’s mission has failed. Sanctions aren’t “efficient,” he said.

Civil War

“We are not for Assad, neither for his opponents,” Putin said. “We want to achieve the situation where the violence ends and there won’t be large-scale civil war.”

Putin echoed the argument of the Assad regime that anti-regime ’’militants’’ are responsible for much of the bloodshed, ignoring the shelling by Syrian forces and the civilian killings such as in Houla attributed by survivors and Western governments to gangs of the pro-regime thugs.

“But how many of peaceful people were killed by so-called militants?” Putin said. “Did you count? There are also hundreds of victims.”

Putin cited the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s intervention in Libya, asking whether the country is more stable after the ouster of strongman Muammar Qaddafi.

“What is happening in Libya, in Iraq?” he said. “Did they become safer? Where are they heading? Nobody has an answer.”

Berlin Stop

Earlier in the day, Putin also was pressed to shift Syria policy by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. At a press conference in Berlin, Putin said Russia doesn’t support either side in the Syrian conflict and believes it’s too early to say Annan’s peace plan has failed.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking in Olso yesterday, said Russia’s supply of weapons to Syria is propping up the regime.

Last week’s massacre of more than 100 people in Houla, including women and children, hasn’t broken an impasse in the UN Security Council, where Russia continues to block attempts to impose more economic pressure on Syria.

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