Merkel, Putin stress need for ′political′ solution in Syria | News | DW | 01.06.2012
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Merkel, Putin stress need for 'political' solution in Syria

The German and Russian leaders have stressed their commitment to resolving the Syria conflict without the use of force. Meanwhile, the UN Human Rights Council has called for an independent probe into the Houla massacre.

Syria was top of the agenda on Friday as Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, a week after more than 100 civilians were killed in the Syrian town of Houla.

In a joint press conference after the meeting, Merkel said Germany and Russia were aligned in their view that the crisis would best be resolved by political means. She also called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to urgently adhere to a six-point peace plan brokered by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.

"The latest massacre in Houla showed once again how terrible the human and human rights situation is in Syria," Merkel said.

"We both made clear that we want a political solution, and that the Annan plan can be a starting point, but we must work with all our energy and force, particularly in the UN Security Council, on implementing this plan and if necessary developing other political actions."

Putin, meanwhile, warned that although the conflict was "extremely dangerous," military intervention was not an option. "You cannot do anything by force," Putin said.

UN human rights body condemns Syria

Members of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) voted to condemn Syria on Friday over the Houla massacre. The 47-nation body approved a resolution blaming "pro-regime elements" and government troops for the killings by 41 votes to three.

People gather at a mass burial for the victims purportedly killed during an artillery barrage from Syrian forces in Houla

108 cilivians were killed in Houla, many of them children

They also called for an independent investigation by the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, which was set up by the HRC last year.

Russia, however, joined China and Cuba in voting against the resolution.

Since the Houla massacre, Moscow has come under increasing pressure from Western nations to convince Assad to stop the bloodshed in Syria. Russia, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, has used its veto to block resolutions blaming the Syrian regime for the violence.

Just hours ahead of Putin's arrival in Berlin, Germany's foreign minister called on Russia to get tough on the Syrian regime.

Moscow "needs to recognize that in trying to end the violence in Syria, we are not working against Russia's strategic interests," Guido Westerwelle said in an interview published in the Friday edition of the daily paper Die Welt.

At the same time, Westerwelle warned against premature discussion of military action.

"In this difficult situation one must not create the impression that military intervention is a silver bullet," he said.

Putin denies arms supply

While welcoming Russia's call for a political solution to the crisis on Friday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that Russia's stance on the conflict was seen as supporting Assad's government.

"I repeat the appeal that I have made to Russia because their position of claiming not to take a position is certainly viewed in the Security Council, in Damascus and elsewhere, as a position supporting the continuity of the Assad regime," Clinton told reporters in Oslo.

She also leveled fresh allegations at Russia over reports that it has continued to supply arms to the Syrian regime.

"We know there has been a very consistent arms trade, even during the past year, coming from Russia to Syria. We also believe the continuous supply of arms from Russia has strengthened the Assad regime," she said.

Speaking in Berlin, Putin vehemently denied the allegations, saying Russia had remained neutral throughout the conflict.

"We have a good, long-standing relationship with Syria, but we do not support any side from which the threat of a civil war may emerge," Putin said.

"As for supplying weapons, Russia does not provide weapons that could be used in a civil conflict," he added.

Western officials confirmed a report from the Human Rights First group on Thursday that a Russian cargo ship had delivered heavy weapons to the Syrian port of Tartus last weekend. The weapons were believed to have been delivered to the regime.

ccp/ncy (AFP, Reuters, AP)