US pleased with Russian shift on Syria

AP News
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Posted: Dec 16, 2011 3:55 PM
US pleased with Russian shift on Syria

The Obama administration and at least one of its allies say they are pleased that Russia has decided to support U.N. Security Council action aimed at halting violence in Syria but won't support Russia's proposed resolution unless changes are made.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Friday that Russia's surprise introduction of a Security Council resolution on Syria was an "important step" and a sign of growing unity on the importance of opposing Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime's brutal crackdown on reformers.

"It's clear from the steps that Russia took that more and more of the international community is coming together as one to say to Syria and to the Assad regime that we can no longer tolerate the kind of killings that are going on, the kind of abuse of human rights that have gone on in Syria and that Assad needs to step down," Panetta told a news conference in Ankara, Turkey.

In Washington, the State Department called the Russian move "good news" but said the U.S. wouldn't vote for the resolution unless it distinguishes the actions of peaceful protesters from those of the government. In Paris, the French Foreign Ministry echoed that stance.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters that "the Russians have recognized that the U.N. Security Council can't be silent any longer and that we've got to use that organization to make clear that the violence needs to end."

But she stressed the administration has concerns about the draft. "We wouldn't be prepared to accept it as written, particularly because it appears to create a sense of parity between these peaceful protesters and the action of the regime, which has been extremely brutal and violent," she said.

The French Foreign Ministry said France was "ready to work with all its partners" on Syria "but underlines that the Russian text as it now stands has parts that are not acceptable."

"In particular, it's unacceptable to put on a par the repression of the Syrian regime and the resistance of the Syrian people. Every day thousands of people demonstrate peacefully and are victims of a bloody repression," it said.

The United Nations estimates that 5,000 people have been killed in violence since protests against the Assad regime started nine months ago.

Despite the severity of the situation, Russia, along with China, had opposed U.N. Security Council action on Syria.

But on Thursday, Russia surprised council members by introducing a draft resolution that "demands that all parties in Syria immediately stop any violence irrespective of where it comes from." The draft, however, does not mention sanctions, something that Western nations have been pushing.

Nuland said the U.S. wants to work with Russia, as well as with the Arab League, which has condemned the violence, to ensure that all concerns are addressed.

Despite the reservations, Nuland said the Russian move "begins a new process in New York that we very much welcome."

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Baldor reported from Ankara. Jamey Keaten contributed to this report from Paris.