Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov blamed both Damascus and the Syrian opposition on Tuesday for the apparent failure of special UN envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan.
In a press conference with his Syrian counterpart Walid Moallem in Moscow, Lavrov called on Damascus to "implement all of the conditions in Annan's plan," while adding that the opposition forces did not honor its commitment to lay down its arms.
Lavrov was careful not to directly criticize the Syrian regime, but offered to expedite the UN observer team by possibly sending forces currently deployed in the Golan Heights to Syria. Such a proposal may upset the current observer status between Israel and Syria.
Lavrov blames the Syrian opposition for "predicting" the failure of Annan's plan as soon as it was announced, deeming it unuseful. Therefore, he said, the international community must pressure the opposition into honoring its commitments. Lavrov did not say what steps will be taken in light of the current impasse, and is due to dicuss the situation in Washington on Wednesday. The U.S. is also debating its next move vis-a-vis Syria.
It seems that Lavrov and his Syrian counterpart do not see eye to eye on the subject of international observers – while Lavrov supports an international force regardless of their nationality, Syria is demanding to see the list of observers so it can "prevent the bitter experience" it underwent with the Arab League's observer mission.
Another point of disagreement revolves around the written pledges Damascus is asking from the opposition regarding Annan's plan. However, Lavrov said that he "has not heard such a demand from the Syrian side." If such a condition exists, it seems Russia is trying to convince Syria to back down.
Moallem, on his part, insisted that the government has not asked the oppositin for any commitments. "We don't ask anything from terrorist bands who are destroying Syria," he said, "we asked Annan for commitments." Syria also asked Annan to call on several Arab countries to stop arming the rebels, but he has yet to reply to this request.
It seems that, at this stage, Russia still considers Annan's plan as the way to manage the crsis, and it could cooperate with secveral Arab states, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to bring about even a partial ceasfire. According to Lavrov, a ceasefire does not mean a withdrawal of Syrian forces from the assaulted cities but the "beginning of a noticeable withdrawal." This would seem to be a fresh interpretation of the deal, meant to construct a gradual timetable that would not make it appear as though Assad was buckling under international pressure.
The main question remains now to which extent will the West, Arab nations, and, no less importantly, Turkey, to adopt Lavrov's new spin on Annan's plan, especially in the lack of any practical, military, or diplomatic plan of action geared at ending the crisis. Lavrov made it clear on Monday that Turkey's intention to create buffer zones in Syrian territory was also unacceptable, saying that "Turkey is a sovereign state and it can do whatever it likes in its own territory." Thus, the possibility of aiding Syrian civilians seems far from resolution.
Turkey, on its part, clarified that, according to a pact it signed with Syria in 1998, it is permitted to act against Syria in any instance in which Damascus harms Turkey's national security. Ankara threatened that if Syrian attacks into its territory continue it will respond "harshly."
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