Germany hopes for Russian rethink on Syria

By Geir Moulson

Associated Press

Published: Monday, March 5 2012 8:20 a.m. MST

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, left, welcomes his JordanIAN counterpart Nasser Judeh to their meeting in Moscow, Russia, Monday, March 5, 2012.

Misha Japaridze, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

BERLIN — Germany's foreign minister said Monday that he hopes Russia will recognize that it is on "the wrong side of history" and rethink its stance on Syria now that its presidential election is over, but Russia's foreign minister gave no indication of an about-turn.

Russia — along with China, another veto-wielding power on the U.N. Security Council — so far has stood by Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose regime's crackdown on a popular uprising has left thousands dead over the past year. Moscow has blocked a U.N. Security Council resolution against Damascus and accused the West of fueling the conflict by backing the Syrian opposition.

Germany, along with the U.S. and European allies as well as Arab nations, has strongly advocated U.N. action.

Now that campaigning is over in Russia and Vladimir Putin has sealed his return to the presidency, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said he hopes Moscow will rethink its approach.

"I hope that Russia now, after the elections and with a clear view, will see that it stands on the wrong side of history, and that the people in Syria who are standing up for democracy and their freedom need solidarity from the international community," Westerwelle said in Berlin.

He expressed hope Moscow will see "that this is not about diminishing Russian interests in the region — this is exclusively about showing solidarity and support for the people who are currently being violently repressed in Syria."

Syria is Russia's last remaining ally in the Middle East. Moscow has maintained close ties with Damascus since the Cold War, when Syria was led by the current leader's father, Hafez Assad.

Moscow fears that condemnation by the Security Council could pave the way for military intervention against Assad, as it did against Moammar Gadhafi in Libya last year.

Putin, Russia's prime minister for the past four years, called last week for both Syrian government and opposition forces to pull out of besieged cities to end the bloodshed, adding that Western refusal to make that demand of opponents of Assad has encouraged them to keep fighting.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov gave no indication Monday that Moscow could soften its stance after the election. He said Russia's own draft resolution demanding that both the government and the opposition end bloodshed and sit down for talks has remained on the table.

"I don't think there is a need for any new initiatives," Lavrov said following talks in Moscow with his Jordanian counterpart.

"It's not that everything depends on Russia," he said. "We shouldn't expect one another to take any action, but sit down together and decide what steps need to be taken so that the Syrians stop shooting at each other."

He said that his meeting with counterparts from the Arab League set for this weekend in Cairo would offer a chance to again analyze the situation.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed Syria in a telephone conversation with Putin on Monday, Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert said.

In a statement, he said the two "agreed to stay in contact on this and other questions," but gave no further details.

Syria's state newspapers lauded Putin's return to the presidency. In an editorial, the Tishrin daily said Putin would reshape international relations to respect "countries' interests and unity and not interfere in their internal affairs."

Vladimir Isachenkov contributed from Moscow.

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