Russia Says Transition Is Needed in Syria but Cannot Be Imposed (NY) TIMES) By ELLEN BARRY, NICK CUMMING-BRUCE and RICK GLADSTONE MOSCOW, RUSSIA 06/29/12)
NEW YORK TIMES
NEW YORK TIMES Articles-Index-Top
MOSCOW — Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said on
Thursday that Syria needed a period of political transition but
reiterated Moscow’s resistance to any plan being imposed by the
“In order to overcome the Syrian crisis and to finally establish
stable rights and norms which satisfy all groups in the Syrian
population, it is necessary to have a transitional period, this is
obvious,” Mr. Lavrov said at a news conference here in Moscow.
Mr. Lavrov’s comments came ahead of an “action group” meeting in
Geneva on Saturday at which Kofi Annan, the United Nations and Arab
League special envoy, could put forward a proposal for a national
unity cabinet that includes opposition figures.
Mr. Lavrov said that Russia has not agreed to any new version of Mr.
Annan’s faltering cease-fire plan and criticized diplomats for
leaking details of the process to the press.
“There are no agreed-upon plans, work continues on a possible final
document,” he said, adding that a meeting of experts will convene in
Geneva on Friday.
Hints of Mr. Annan’s possible route to a diplomatic compromise
emerged Wednesday when Reuters quoted unidentified diplomats as
saying Russia and other powers supported his idea of a Syrian
government of national unity that would include opposition figures
but exclude those whose participation would undermine it — language
that clearly was meant to refer to President Bashar al-Assad. But
details were vague.
Part of the purpose of the meeting, a diplomat based in Geneva said,
speaking on the condition of anonymity, is to uncouple the process of
achieving a cease-fire from the increasing demands that Mr. Assad’s
government be held to account for human rights abuses, which a United
Nations panel said Wednesday have continued on “an alarming scale.”
“I consider it a sign of an unscrupulous approach to diplomacy that
there are leaks to the press about certain formulas, certain ideas,
that are being recommended as part of a final document by specific
countries,” Mr. Lavrov said.
Russia has adamantly opposed any transition plan conditional on Mr.
Assad’s departure and has insisted that opposition figures must
negotiate with the government if the crisis is to be resolved. Mr.
Lavrov reiterated that position in his comments on Thursday.
“We will not support and cannot support any interference from outside
or any imposition of recipes,” Mr. Lavrov said. “This also concerns
the fate of Bashar al-Assad,” the Syrian president.
Sergei A. Karaganov, the dean of the department of international
economics and foreign affairs at the Higher School of Economics in
Moscow, said it would be unrealistic to expect Russia to take an
active part in implementing a transition plan.
“Russia is not willing to be responsible for the bloodshed which is
continuing there, and we will not play an active role in getting
Assad out,” Mr. Karaganov said.
Mr. Karaganov said Russia might agree to support the formation of a
coalition government, as long as it did not include figures linked to
armed resistance, but added that such a process would have little
substance or real effect. “We are involved in the diplomatic process,
but we are not involved in trying to solve the Syrian problem one way
or another,” he said. “Many of our experts believe it is unsolvable.”
Mr. Annan, whose peace plan is in danger of collapse, announced in a
statement on Wednesday that he was convening an “action group”
meeting of influential countries in Geneva on Saturday in an effort
to revive the plan.
But the announcement came only after Mr. Annan had made concessions
over which countries would attend. Conspicuously absent from the list
of the nations invited were Iran, the strongest regional ally of Mr.
Assad, and Saudi Arabia, a prominent supporter of Mr. Assad’s enemies.
Mr. Annan, who had said he wanted the Iranians to be part of such a
meeting, offered no explanation for why they were not invited. Asked
about it later, the chief United Nations spokesman, Martin Nesirky,
told reporters in New York that Mr. Annan “has been clear about the
need for Iran to be part of the solution” and that Mr. Annan would
brief the Iranians about the outcome of the Geneva meeting.
Mr. Nesirky declined to comment on speculation that Hillary Rodham
Clinton, the American secretary of state, had threatened to cancel
her participation if Iran were invited.
There was no immediate comment from Iran on its exclusion from the
Geneva meeting. But Tehran’s ambassador to the United Nations,
Mohammad Khazaee, said that Iran supported Mr. Annan’s peace plan and
that “a very important fact that cannot be ignored by anybody is the
influence and constructive role that the Islamic Republic of Iran has
in the region.”
“So if some powers do not want to benefit from this influence and
constructive role, that’s their problem,” he continued. “And this is
another indication of their actually neglecting the realities on the
The aim of the meeting is to “identify the steps and measures to
secure full implementation” of Mr. Annan’s six-point plan and to
bring “an immediate cessation of violence in all forms,” Mr. Annan
said in the statement, released at the United Nations’ offices in
Geneva. The meeting will also seek to unite the countries behind
proposals for a Syrian-led political transition “that meets the
legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people,” the statement said.
Along with Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Lavrov of Russia will attend, as well as
the foreign ministers of Britain, China and France, the other
permanent members of the Security Council. Also invited are
emissaries from Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Turkey, the European Union and
the Arab League, as well as Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary
The compromise formula, diplomats in Geneva said, was to limit
attendance from the Middle East to countries that held a position
with the Arab League: Iraq as head of the league’s summit meeting,
Kuwait as head of its Council of Foreign Ministers and Qatar as head
of its follow-up committee on Syria.
Mr. Annan has repeatedly warned that the conflict, which began as a
peaceful Arab Spring opposition movement against Mr. Assad in March
2011, is threatening to plunge Syria and its neighboring countries
into a sectarian conflagration.
The outcome will partly depend on whether the United States and
Russia can bridge their differences over Syria. The United States has
demanded that Mr. Assad step down. Russia, the main military supplier
to Mr. Assad’s government, has rejected any solution in which
political change in Syria is imposed by outside powers.
Ellen Barry reported from Moscow, Nick Cumming-Bruce from Geneva, and
Rick Gladstone from New York.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: June 28, 2012
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the
Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, was speaking in Tunis. He
was in Moscow. (Copyright 2012 The New York Times Company 06/29/12)
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY