France says Syria's Assad must end violence first

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 16, 2012 9:55 AM
France says Syria's Assad must end violence first

PARIS (Reuters) - France insisted on Friday that any U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria must go beyond calling for a truce and push for a political transition, with President Bashar al-Assad taking a unilateral step to stop the violence.

Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said in an interview in Le Monde newspaper these were "red lines" for France and said he saw "a slight evolution" in the position of Russia, the most outspoken opponent of demands for regime change in Syria.

Russia has called for both government and opposition forces to agree a ceasefire and insisted there must be no precondition to a political dialogue, such as Assad's exit from power.

"I have two red lines. I cannot accept that we put the oppressors and victims in the same boat. The regime must initiate the cessation of hostilities," Juppe told Le Monde.

"The second red line: we cannot be satisfied with just a humanitarian and ceasefire resolution. There must be a reference to a political settlement based on the Arab League proposal."

U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, who visited Assad in Syria, was to brief the U.N. Security Council via video link later on Friday.

Council diplomats say his assessment of the crisis will be crucial to an effort by the United States and Europe to pass a resolution that would ensure humanitarian aid workers access to besieged towns across the country.

"It's a nightmare. This regime has become mad. We back Kofi Annan to implement his mission, but we will not be fooled by the Syrians' manipulation," Juppe said.

"The Arab League plan does not foresee Bashar al-Ashad's departure. It would sideline him and, more exactly, designate his vice president to negotiate and start a transition. That is really the minimum."

He reiterated that "for the moment" military intervention was not an option, especially without a U.N. mandate, and that Paris opposed arming the rebels.

"Delivering weapons would push Syria into a civil war that risks being terrible because we can see the determination of the various communities. I am saddened to see the Christian, Catholic and Orthodox hierarchies continue to side with Assad."

(Reporting By John Irish; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Robin Pomeroy)