Syria to respond in kind to recalled envoys: diplomat

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 12, 2012 9:15 AM
Syria to respond in kind to recalled envoys: diplomat

By Steve Gutterman

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Damascus is planning to respond in kind to countries that have recalled their ambassadors from Syria in response to President Bashar al-Assad's crackdown on a year-long uprising, Syria's envoy to Russia Riad Haddad said on Monday.

"There are certain European countries that have already recalled their ambassadors from Syria. Syria will respond in the same way," Haddad, told journalists, speaking through an interpreter.

EU member states have been discussing proposals, promoted by France, to collectively downgrade diplomatic ties both in EU capitals and Damascus, but with no agreement so far.

Syria has begun pre-emptively withdrawing ambassadors from Europe because it fears EU members will expel them, Arab diplomats said on Saturday.

The United States, Britain, Switzerland, Canada and France have closed their embassies in Damascus.

The United Nations estimates that Syrian security forces have killed well over 7,500 people in a conflict that began as a mainly peaceful protest movement a year ago and now appears to be sliding into civil war.

Syria said in December that "terrorists" had killed more than 2,000 soldiers and police.

Haddad indicated that U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's discussions with Assad at the weekend had not included a proposal that Assad step down.

"There were no other proposals aside from those that were announced to the media," Haddad said, when asked whether Annan had proposed Assad step down.

He said the discussion between Assad and Annan had echoed the 'five principles' for a Syrian settlement agreed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo on Saturday.

"These five principles were the essence of the discussion between the president (Assad) and Kofi Annan," he said.

Russia and the Arab ministers said they agreed on five points in Cairo, namely the need to end violence "from any source", the need for unbiased monitoring, opposition to foreign intervention, delivering humanitarian aid and supporting U.N.-Arab League envoy Annan.

Haddad said Annan left Syria speaking of the need to stop the violence, provide for humanitarian aid and foster dialogue in Syria.

Syria agrees, Haddad said, but he emphasized that armed government opponents must also stop violence.

Haddad praised what he said was Annan's rejection of "external interference" in Syria and lauded Russia for supporting Syria's position that a political dialogue must not be subject to preconditions such as Assad's exit.

"When they say they will hold dialogue only after the president resigns, that is a preliminary condition, and it is interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state," he said.

(Reporting by Steve Gutterman; Writing by Thomas Grove and Steve Gutterman; Editing by Janet Lawrence)