x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Russia warns against outside efforts to isolate Syria's Assad

Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, says Russia welcomes Bashar Al Assad's decree ordering a referendum this month on a new constitution.

THE HAGUE // Isolating Damascus in talks to end the violence in Syria would be a mistake, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said yesterday.

Speaking at a press conference in The Hague, after meeting his Dutch counterpart Uri Rosenthal, Mr Lavrov took a swipe at countries wanting to isolate President Bashar Al Assad's regime.

"Unfortunately some of our partners long ago wrote off the government of Syria," said Mr Lavrov, whose country together with China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution earlier this month to condemn the violence in Syria.

Mr Lavrov said Moscow welcomed Mr Al Assad's decree ordering a referendum this month on a new constitution which would effectively end nearly 50 years of single-party rule.

He said Russia continued to believe that Syrians should solve their problems without outside interference and only when both Al Assad's regime and pro-democracy forces were involved.

Russia stands as one of the world's last major friends of Mr Al Assad. With the death toll rising to more than 6,000, according to figures from the opposition, Mr Lavrov held direct talks with Mr Al Assad in Damascus earlier this month, refusing to join growing calls on him to step down.

Although his mission was widely criticised by Arab nations and produced no tangible concessions, Mr Lavrov has cited it as an example for the need for further dialogue.

A new version of the Security Council resolution is due for a non-binding vote in the UN General Assembly today and is expected to pass.

Russia and China are expected to oppose the new text but no one can veto resolutions in the 193-nation General Assembly.

"As far as the resolution is concerned, we prefer not to be guided by the fact that there is a resolution. We will be guided by the substance of the resolution," Mr Lavrov said.

"If the resolution is one-sided and ignores the fact that people are getting killed by the opposition armed group as well, then it will not be helpful," he added.

The General Assembly resolution drawn up by Saudi Arabia and Qatar calls on Mr Al Assad to put a stop to attacks on civilians, diplomats said.

It also expresses support for the Arab League's plan to end the crackdown in Syria and calls for the naming of a UN special envoy.

Asked about Russia's position on possible aid corridors into Syria, Mr Lavrov said he will meet with the French foreign minister, Alain Juppe, to discuss the idea. France first proposed the aid corridors last November.

In Damascus, dozens of young Syrians gathered in front of the Russian embassy to thank Moscow and Beijing for their support, state television reported yesterday.