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Russia blasts US double standards over Syrian peace progress

Published time: May 29, 2013 08:51
Edited time: May 29, 2013 19:24
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (R) meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Paris, May 27, 2013.  (Reuters / Jim Young)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (R) meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Paris, May 27, 2013. (Reuters / Jim Young)

The US-Russian initiative for a comprehensive peace conference to resolve the Syrian crisis needs honest effort of those involved. But some nations apparently try to undermine the effort to call the meeting, says the Russia’s foreign minister.

On Wednesday, the US, Turkey and Qatar pushed through a UN resolution condemning the Syrian government for the alleged use of foreign fighters against rebel forces in the battle for the strategic town of Qusair.

The document calls for an investigation into the matter as well as more aid access and protections for the civilian population of Syria.

The ‘foreign fighters’ in question are from the Lebanese Shia movement, Hezbollah, which backed Syrian president, Bashar Assad, fearing that if his regime falls, Lebanon will become Al-Qaeda’s next target.

35 of the body’s members voted in favor of the resolution, with 8 abstentions and Venezuela being the only state to speak against the document.

After the resolution was adopted, the US State Department called on Hezbollah to “immediately” withdraw its fighters from Syria, with spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, labeling their involvement in the country as "unacceptable" and "dangerous".

Earlier that day, the Russian foreign minister warned against the resolution, which he says may threaten a peaceful resolution to the Syrian conflict.

“To my great astonishment we have learned that in addition to the sponsors of this draft resolution the US delegation is promoting most vigorously this very unhelpful idea. I asked [US State Secretary] John Kerry about it in Paris, and apparently he was not aware of this situation. He promised to handle it, but I don’t know whether he managed to do it,” Lavrov said.

He added that Russia currently sees no alternative to the peace conference, which would hopefully gather all interested parties, including the Syrian government, various Syrian opposition groups, regional powers like Iran and other. But doing it requires a genuine joint effort.

“We need everyone to work honestly and not allow double standards – backing the conference in statements and taking steps actually aimed at undermining this suggestion in practice,” Lavrov explained.

Lavrov also explained that the primary focus of Hezbollah fighters in Syria as stated by the leadership is the protection of the Shia population and holy sites from the threat posed by Sunni rebel forces. He said it indicates that the Syrian conflict is increasingly characterized by sectarian confrontation, a development which Russia has long warned against.

Free Syrian Army fighters lay cover fire after what they say was during clashes with forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in Deir al-Zor May 13, 2013. (Reuters)

Russia and the US have diverged in their position over the end of  EU’s embargo on delivery of arms to Syria this week, which may open the door for direct arming of rebel groups by European nations. Washington praised the development, saying it gives Europe more flexibility and ramps up pressure on Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Moscow sees it as not only counterproductive, but also potentially unlawful, since delivering arms to non-governmental actors against the wishes of a country’s government breaks international law. Such moves are forbidden both by UN-level treaties on arms trade and EU’s own guidelines.

Russia itself has standing military contracts with the Syrian government, which it intends to fulfill. Supporters of the rebels, including the US, have criticized Russia on several occasions over arming the Assad army. Moscow insists that the weapon systems it sold Syria cannot be used against the rebels.

For example the S-300 surface-to-air missiles are meant to shoot down aircraft and some ballistic missiles, neither of which the rebels have. Russia believes that its position helps stabilize the situation and restrain external parties, which would like to use force in Syria.

Meanwhile, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay has urged not to supply weapons to Syria, but push the two sides to find a political solution.

"The message from all of us should be the same: we will not support this conflict with arms, ammunition, politics or religion," she told a 47-member Geneva forum.

Pillay warned that in case the situation deteriorates, “increased inter-communal massacres are a certainty, rather than a risk."