EU Pressures Russia Over Syrian Crisis
European Union officials are meeting with Vladimir Putin today, and are expected to press the newly elected Russian president to take a stronger stance on the crisis in Syria. Russia has refused to take stronger action against Damascus by using its veto powers in the United Nations Security Council. Both Russia and the EU still have hope in Kofi Annan’s U.N.-backed peace plan. President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, said of his meeting with Putin, “We fully agree that the Annan plan as a whole provides the best opportunity to break the cycle of violence in Syria… avoiding a civil war.” Nevertheless, Moscow has so far shown no sign of its willingness to jilt its long-time ally, despite international condemnation of Syria’s continued violence in the country.
In addition, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon backed the Arab League’s Syrian plan, and called for broader international effort on the Syrian crisis. Ban told reporters, “Our priority at this time is to help the Syrian people…I want to welcome a wider international discussion on the future course of actions.” Echoing this sentiment, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani, head of the Arab League’s Syria committee, said Saturday the Arab League “demands the UN Security Council refer (the peace plan) to Chapter VII so that the international community could assume responsibilities.”
Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad denied his role in the Houla Massacre that brought international condemnation and the expulsion of Syrian diplomats last week. The president’s nationally televised address was aimed mostly at a domestic audience, and seemed to be preparing Syrians for more hardships after over 15 months of violence. ”We are facing a real war from outside,” Assad told the Syrian people. “Everyone is responsible for defending the homeland.”
Update: Putin publicly skirted the issue of the Syrian crisis in Monday’s talks with EU officials, saying only that it had been discussed, but making no further comment.