US President Barack Obama told reporters at the G20 Summit in Mexico on Tuesday that although China and Russia understand the dangers of civil war in Syria, they are not yet prepared to call for President Bashar al-Assad to step down.
Obama held talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Vladimir Putin, hoping to win their support for a political transition in Syria that would remove Assad from power. But the US president admitted that Beijing and Moscow were not on board yet.
"I wouldn't suggest at this point the United States and the rest of the international community are aligned with Russia and China in their positions," Obama said. "But I do think they recognize the grave dangers of all-out civil war."
No regime change
China and Russia, permanent UN Security Council members, have twice vetoed resolutions condemning the Assad regime. Syria is one of Moscow's last footholds in the Middle East. Russia has a naval base at the Mediterranean port of Tartus, and a lucrative arms relationship with Damascus.
French President Francois Hollande said Russia was "playing its role" to find a political solution in Syria, while British premier David Cameron claimed that Putin no longer wanted Assad to remain in power.
But the Russian president's own statements seemed to contradict both of those of claims.
"We believe that nobody has the right to decide for other nations who should be brought to power, who should be removed from power," Putin told reporters during a post-G20 news conference.
"It is not changing the regime that is important, but that after changing the regime, which should be done constitutionally, violence is stopped and peace comes to the country," he said.
UN monitors fired on
In New York City, the head of the 300 military observers in Syria told the UN Security Council during a close door session that the mission had come under both direct and indirect fire with increasing frequency.
Major General Robert Mood said that the unarmed observers had taken direct fire at least 10 times over the past week and that indirect fire was a daily occurrence. Nine vehicles from the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) had been struck or damaged, according to UN diplomats who heard Mood's testimony.
"Shelling, small arms fire and other incidents are coming much closer, and we have been targets several times over the last few weeks," Mood told the council.
Although Mood suspended UNIMIS last week due to the increasing danger to his personnel on the ground, he told reporters after his Security Council testimony that there were no plans to cancel the mission.
Syria's ambassador to the UN, Bashar Ja'afari, blamed the escalating violence on "armed groups" and "terrorists," while re-iterating the Assad regime's commitment to the peace plan brokered by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.
"The only way to push forward is to guarantee the success of the six-point plan of Mr. Kofi Annan," Ja'afari said.
Violence has continued largely unabated since the Annan plan went into effect on April 12. The UN estimates that more than 10,000 people have died since President Assad began the crackdown on the Syrian opposition in March 2011.
slk/jm (AP, AFP, Reuters)