UK: Russia, China paying price over Syria stance

March 8, 2012 - 10:56 AM
Mideast Syria

A man mourns the death of a man moments after his death, thought to have been killed by a Syrian Army sniper, outside a hospital in Idlib, north Syria, Wednesday, March 7, 2012. The man was shot by a sniper and taken to hospital for medical aid, but died from his wounds.(AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

LONDON (AP) — Russia and China are paying "a diplomatic price" across the Arab world for their opposition to international action against Syria's ruling regime, Britain's foreign secretary said Thursday.

As William Hague pressed the two nations to drop their objections, the presidents of Turkey and Tunisia also urged a diplomatic resolution to the Syrian government's bloody crackdown and said they remain opposed to outside military intervention in the country.

China and Russia have vetoed two United Nations resolutions condemning the Syrian regime and calling for President Bashar Assad to step down. Diplomats hope the nations may agree to a new U.N. Security Council resolution focused on the need for humanitarian aid and an end to violence — but which does not address Assad's future.

"While we should not be starry-eyed about this, it's certainly true that China and Russia are paying a diplomatic price for the position that they have taken," Hague told Parliament's Foreign Affairs select committee. "Throughout the Arab world they are paying that price — particularly in the opinion of the people of many Arab nations."

Hague said nations at the U.N. must continue to work on agreeing to "a meaningful resolution" that supports the work of the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan.

"If our view is correct that the Assad regime cannot recover its credibility internationally, or internally after spilling so much blood — and that one way or another it is doomed, then it is in the national interest of Russia and China to support a political transition at some stage," Hague said.

The U.N. says more than 7,500 people have been killed since Syria's uprising began a year ago. Activists put the death toll at more than 8,000.

At talks in Tunis, Turkish President Abdullah Gul said that regional powers should try and find a solution to the crisis. "We do not find it right for outside forces to come to the region," he said as he held talks with Tunisia's President Moncef Marzouki. "It is open to exploitation."

Gul did not elaborate on his remark, but said that "it would be better that the region shoulders this on its own."

He said a meeting of the so-called Friends of Syria group would take place in Istanbul with "one week or two" and that he hoped Russia and China, who shunned a previous conference in Tunisia, would attend.

"I hope everyone comes and participates in the meeting in Istanbul," he said.

However, Russia's foreign ministry on Tuesday dismissed hopes for a shift in its stance as "wishful thinking," while China said Thursday its special envoy had held talks with Syria's foreign minister and opposition figures during a visit to the country. Li Huaxin reiterated Beijing's belief that the Syrian crisis could be settled peacefully through dialogue.

Gul confirmed that France would be invited to the conference, despite a diplomatic dispute with Turkey over mass killings of Armenians at the end of the Ottoman Empire.

Turkey, which shares a long border with Syria, and France, Syria's former colonial ruler, have been calling for stronger world action on Syria. But Turkish-French relations have stalled over a French law making it a crime to deny that mass killings of Armenians in 1915 constituted genocide.

In London, Hague told legislators that Britain may be prepared to offer equipment to Syria's opposition, but said there were concerns over whether it would be possible to deliver items into Syria and fears they could end up in the hand of extremists.

"We can help and we will continue to offer help to peaceful Syrian opposition groups," he said. "I don't rule out giving more nonlethal help."

Hague acknowledged it could be possible to replicate the aid that had been offered to rebel forces in Libya, where Britain supplied body armor and communications equipment.

However, he said worries that al-Qaida-linked extremists were operating inside Syria could pose a challenge. "That is a consideration in trying to provide practical assistance," he said.

He has already ruled out offering weapons to Syria's opposition,

In talks with Gul, Marzouki said that "arming insurgents and foreign intervention would only complicate the situation."

In Athens, Greece's Foreign Minister Stavros Dimas met with Syrian opposition representatives to discuss a peaceful end to the country's yearlong uprising. A representative from the Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, one of the Syria's two main opposition groups, said his group is committed to a nonviolent transition to democracy.

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Associated Press writers Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara, Turkey, and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report