EU to press Russia on Syria at summit | News | DW | 04.06.2012
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EU to press Russia on Syria at summit

European Union officials are set to put more pressure on Russia to use its influence on Syria's government to end the bloodshed in that country. So far, President Putin hasn't been swayed.

The conflict in Syria was expected to dominate discussions at the European Union-Russia summit in St. Petersburg on Monday. The West is demanding that Moscow put more pressure on the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to comply with the terms of an April 12 cease-fire that he agreed to abide by.

"We need to make sure that Russia is using fully its leverage in convincing the regime to implement [the plan]," an EU official who declined to be named told the Reuters news agency.

"The Russian side has certainly not been very helpful in finding solutions in terms of a political way out," the official said.

Efforts so far to convince newly elected President Vladimir Putin to change policy on Syria have failed. During meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin and French President Francois Hollande on Friday, Putin stressed that not only government troops but also rebel forces were responsible for the violence.

Diplomatic persistence

If EU officials are growing frustrated by Russia's refusal to move on the issue, they are trying not to show it.

"Russia's role is crucial for the success of Annan's plan," Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy coordinator, said in a statement following a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Sunday.

She added that the EU intended to "work closely with Russia to find a way to end the violence and support" the peace plan.

Ashton also had a telephone conversation with the author of the six-point peace plan, United Nations-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan. Ashton said they had agreed that the Syrian crisis had reached a "critical point."

Houla massacre focuses efforts

A massacre that killed more than 100 people in the central Syrian town of Houla 10 days ago has increased the urgency of diplomatic efforts to end the fighting in Syria. An investigation into the massacre by a team of UN monitors found that forces loyal to President Assad were most likely responsible for the killings.

On Sunday, Assad used a nationally televised address to parliament to deny that his forces had anything to do with the massacre.

Bilateral trade and Iran's controversial nuclear program were also to be on the agenda at Monday's EU-Russia summit. As it is the first since President Putin recently returned to office after an absence of four years from the post, EU officials were also expected to use the summit to get reacquainted with him. The fact that he remained in power as Russia's prime minister during that time means they aren't dealing with a complete stranger.

pfd/ncy (Reuters, AFP)