Russia ready to support Annan's Syria mission

Lavrov conditions support on absence of ultimatum, demand for simultaneous cease fire.

Lavrov on Syria (photo credit: REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin)
Lavrov on Syria
(photo credit: REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin)
MOSCOW - Russia said on Tuesday it was ready to endorse a UN Security Council statement backing UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's Syrian peace mission as long it does not present an ultimatum to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also repeated Russia's insistence that Syrian government forces and rebels must cease fire simultaneously to end a year of bloodshed, a position that differs starkly to that of the US.
Lavrov said Russia, which has blocked Security Council action on Syria for months, was prepared to approve a statement or resolution supporting the efforts of UN-Arab League envoy Annan. But he added there were "at least two" conditions.
"The Security Council must approve these not as an ultimatum but ... as a basis for the continuation of efforts to reach accord between the Syrian government and all opposition groups," Lavrov said after talks with Lebanon's foreign minister.
A Western-drafted statement supporting Kofi Annan's peace efforts and sending a strong message to Damascus to end violence was circulated on Monday by France. Britain's UN envoy said he hoped it would be adopted on Tuesday.
Annan's plan entails a ceasefire, access for humanitarian aid and political dialogue with the Syrian opposition.
Lavrov's remarks suggest that Russia, which has shielded Assad by vetoing two Western-backed Security Council resolutions condemning his government for a year of bloodshed in which over 8,000 people have died, may seek changes to Annan's text. The draft statement's threat of "further measures" if Syria does not comply within seven days seems unpalatable to Russia.
Moscow does not want Western and Arab nations who seek Assad's removal, saying his military crackdown on a popular uprising has destroyed his legitimacy, to be able to use a UN resolution to advance their visions of a solution in Syria. Assad has given Moscow its strongest foothold in the Middle East, buying billions of dollars worth of Russian arms and hosting a Mediterranean maintenance and supply facility that is Russia's only naval base outside the former Soviet Union.
Adoption of a Security Council statement or resolution with Russian support would raise pressure on Assad and could help Moscow rehabilitate its image after protecting Assad from condemnation with the vetoes in October and February. China, which joined Russia in both vetoes, may be eager to mend ties with Arab states it relies on for oil supplies.