MOSCOW (AP) — Russia said Friday it has encouraged the Syrian government to cooperate with Kofi Annan, the envoy charged with trying to help end the violence there, and urged the West to do the same with the Syrian rebels.
Moscow and Beijing have protected Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government from U.N. sanctions over its yearlong crackdown on protesters, in which more than 8,000 people have died. But the Kremlin has also offered strong support to Annan’s mission.
“It’s not only us and China who should be sending signals to Damascus so that it fully cooperates with Kofi Annan’s mission, but other Security Council members also need to do their part of the work and urge the opposition not to provoke the exacerbation of tensions, but similarly cooperate with Kofi Annan and respond constructively to his proposals,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a news conference.
Annan, the former United Nations secretary-general who is the joint U.N. and Arab League special envoy, met twice with Assad last weekend and made proposals to end the bloodshed.
Lavrov on Friday accused the Syrian opposition of stonewalling Annan’s mission just as Moscow was prodding Assad to cooperate.
“It was a bit strange when two days after his (Annan’s) first visit to Damascus representatives of the opposition Syrian National Council declared that his mission had failed,” he said. “That, I think, was absolutely irresponsible, and we are working with Kofi Annan on daily basis and are sending corresponding signals to Damascus to ensure the Syrian leadership’s full cooperation with Kofi Annan’s mission.”
Mikhail Bogdanov, the Russian president’s Middle East envoy, said Friday that tensions between Russia and the West over Syria have eased amid a shared understanding that the crisis has no military solution.
He reaffirmed the call for a ceasefire and negotiations between the government and the opposition, adding that the demands for Assad’s resignation only have encouraged the opposition to continue fighting.
“Such statements about his illegitimacy, about the need for him to step down are counterproductive because they send a wrong signal to the opposition that it doesn’t need to engage in a dialogue and could count on the assistance of the West, NATO as it happened in Libya,” he said at a briefing. “That is absolutely unacceptable and will lead to grave consequences for the Syrians themselves.”
Syria has had strong relations with Russia since the Soviet times and is now Moscow’s only remaining ally in the Arab world.
Russia has vowed to block any U.N. resolution on Syria that could pave the way for a replay of what happened in Libya, where NATO action helped oust Moammar Gadhafi.
Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara was pondering withdrawing its ambassador and creating a buffer zone.
“We are making assessments including the withdrawal of our ambassador,” Erdogan told reporters in Ankara, Turkey. “There are also considerations about creating a buffer zone and a safe zone, we are evaluating alternatives.”
Erdogan didn’t elaborate, but said Turkey is currently building temporary housing units for Syrian refugees and would move them from tents to those units when they are ready.
He voiced hope the April 2 meeting of the so-called Friends of Syria group in Istanbul will help settle the crisis.
“We are planning to hold it with large participation and with the aim of finding a solution,” Erdogan said.
Turkey has invited both Russia and China, which shunned the group’s previous meeting.
Ankara on Friday strongly urged Turkish citizens in Syria to return home, saying that developments there posed serious risks. The Turkish Foreign Ministry said consular services at the Turkish embassy in Damascus will be halted March 22 but the embassy and the Turkish consulate in Aleppo will remain open.
Jordan’s Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh on Friday reasserted the call for an immediate end of fighting and opening the way for humanitarian aid.
“This has gone on too long and it’s unacceptable,” he said in Vienna after meeting with his Austrian counterpart. “We have to ensure that the violence ends and that the humanitarian relief is allowed in.”
Associated Press writers Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara and George Jahn in Vinenna contributed to this report.