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Russia accuses West of blackmail on Syria plans

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July 16, 2012, 2:07 p.m. | Russia and former Soviet Union — by Associated Press

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks at a news conference in Moscow, Monday, July 16, 2012. Lavrov said Monday the Western threats to discontinue the 300-strong U.N. unarmed observer mission to Syria if Russia does not agree to allow the West to use force in the country amounts to blackmail.
© AP

MOSCOW — Russia on Monday accused the West of effectively trying to use blackmail to secure a new U.N. Security Council resolution that would authorize the use of force in Syria.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's comments came ahead of a meeting with Kofi Annan, the United Nations and Arab League envoy for Syria whose plan for halting the fighting is weakening amid escalating violence.

The council is debating a new resolution on Syria, spurred by the July 20 expiration of the mandate for the U.N. observer force there and the failure of the Annan plan.

Russia and Britain have circulated rival texts. The Western-backed British draft threatens non-military sanctions against President Bashar Assad's government if it doesn't withdraw troops and heavy weapons from population centers within 10 days. The proposed resolution is under the U.N. Charter's Chapter 7, which can be enforced militarily.

Russia opposes any resolution that can be enforced militarily.

"To our great regret, there are elements of blackmail," Lavrov said at a news conference. "We are being told that if you do not agree to passing the resolution under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, then we shall refuse to extend the mandate of the monitoring mission."

"We consider it to be an absolutely counterproductive and dangerous approach, since it is unacceptable to use monitors as bargaining chips," he said.

Throughout the 16-month Syrian crisis, in which activists say some 17,000 people have been killed in fighting between Assad's forces and opposition groupings, Russia has adamantly opposed international military intervention, fearing a repeat of the type of international action that helped drive Libya's Moammar Gadhafi out of power.

That position has put Moscow under intense criticism. Russia has rejected the criticism by saying it does not overtly support Assad, Russia's longtime ally, and by strongly backing Annan's plan.

Russia says any change of power in Syria must be achieved through negotiation, but the Syrian opposition has repeatedly said no negotiations with the Assad regime are possible unless he first leaves power.

Lavrov reiterated Moscow's position on Monday, saying it was unrealistic to try to persuade Assad to resign.

"He won't leave, not because we are defending him, but simply because a very significant part of the population in Syria stands behind him," he said.

Comments by Annan last week indicated he favors the British resolution draft and it was unclear if he would have any significant leverage to exert on Russia during his two-day trip to Moscow, which also includes a meeting with President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday.

Lavrov said he would not characterize the situation as a stalemate, but expressed dismay with the continuing fighting.

"What is happening in Syria is horrible," he said. 

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