EU, US and Russia closer than before on Syria, diplomat says
Russia's ambassador to the EU has said "technical differerences" remain on how to handle Syria ahead of an international meeting in Geneva.
Vladimir Chizhov told EUobserver on Thursday (28 June) that Russia, the EU and the US agree on "the basics" of the approach - that there should be a ceasefire, followed by a "Syrian-led" political dialogue and no military intervention.
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"We do not disagree on basics, either with the EU or the US or anyone else - we all want stability in this part of the world. We want peace in Syria and we don't want any dramatic implications for the region," he said.
He noted that Nato's "muted" reaction after Syria shot down a Turkish warplane is "indicative" the Western alliance does not want to go to war.
He also said US criticism of recent bomb attacks on pro-regime civilians shows the West is beginning to see Russia's point of view on the dangerous nature of the opposition.
Chizhov's remarks come ahead of a meeting by the five UN Security Council veto-holders, the EU foreign service and select Arab states, including Iraq, in Geneva on Saturday.
Leaks of new proposals by UN envoy Kofi Annan say he wants an internationally-backed transition process to force out Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Expectations for the Swiss event are modest.
Chizhov said it will produce a "declaration" and an "action plan."
A European diplomat told this website its main achievement would be the creation of a new forum which includes Assad allies, China and Russia, who stayed out of a previous EU-and-US-backed Friends of Syria group.
"The success of the [Geneva] group will be that it exists ... If the meeting takes place it will indicate a level of agreement, including with Russia, on how to shape the international strategy," he said.
Chizhov noted that differences remain, however.
In comments that bode ill for Annan's new anti-Assad proposal, the Russian diplomat said "a sizeable proportion" of Syrians want him to stay and that their views are important.
"With all due respect for [Russian] President Putin, it's not for him to decide. It's for the Syrian people to decide if he stays or goes," Chizhov noted.
He added that Russia will not agree to UN-level sanctions because EU and US sanctions are not working.
"Increasing pressure by foreign sanctions while at the same time calling for political dialogue does not seem very consistent," he said.
He also said Iran should be included in international forums on Syria because it is a major player in the conflict whether the US likes it or not.
Meanwhile, he confirmed that Russia is continuing to ship arms to Assad despite UN reports of regime massacres of women and children.
"We are not negotiating any new arms sales. We are fulfilling previously signed contracts, which only refer to purely defensive weapons and exclusively to air defence," Chizhov said.