Yemen-style plan OK for Syria says Russia
Moscow, June 7, 2012
Russia would accept a Yemen-style power transition in Syria if it were decided by the people, a senior Russian diplomat said on Thursday, the latest in a series of statements seemingly aimed at distancing the Kremlin from President Bashar al-Assad.
The diplomat tried to deflect pressure on Moscow to help engineer Assad's exit from power, however, saying his fate is 'not a question for us' but is up to Syrians themselves - repeating a position Moscow has long voiced.
'Application of the so-called Yemen scenario to resolve the conflict in Syria is possible only if the Syrians themselves agree to it,' Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said, according to the Interfax news agency.
'The Yemen scenario was discussed by the Yemenis themselves. If this scenario is discussed by Syrians themselves and is adopted by them, we are not against it.'
Street protests against Assad that began 15 months ago have evolved largely into armed insurgency as he stepped up efforts to crush dissent by military might. Two reported massacres of civilians by pro-Assad forces since May 25 have heightened Western calls for Assad to make way for a democratic transition.
Moscow has used its UN Security Council veto and other tools to protect Assad, who has given Russia a firm foothold in the Middle East and is a client for Russian weapons. The Kremlin position has shielded him from condemnation by the council and parried Western and Arab efforts to push him from power.
US President Barack Obama told G8 nations including last month that Assad must leave power and pointed to Yemen as a model for a potential transition.
After a year of mass protests against his autocratic rule and increasing armed anarchy, longtime Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh ceded power in February to a transitional administration led by his vice president.
In a sign of increasing pressure on Moscow, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was sending a senior State Department official who works on Syria, Fred Hof, to Moscow on Thursday.
The Russian Foreign Ministry and the US Embassy in Moscow declined immediate comment on the visit.
Clinton told Western and Arab nations at a meeting in Istanbul on Wednesday that a transition strategy in Syria must include Assad's full transfer of power, a senior State Department official said.
The official suggested Clinton was trying to lay down a set of minimum benchmarks for how a Syrian transition could unfold in hopes Russia might back it despite past support for Assad.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and other officials maintain that Moscow is not out to protect Assad and is open to his exit from power if this arises from a Syrian political dialogue without foreign interference.
Bogdanov said Assad's fate is not up to Russia.
'This is not a question for us, it is a question for the Syrian political forces and society,' he said.
In a statement during a visit to Beijing by Putin, a regional security alliance led by Russia and China said it opposes military interference, forced power handovers and unilateral sanctions in dealings with Middle East states.
But Moscow has criticised Assad at times and courted his opponents, suggesting it is hedging its bets.
Analysts say Putin could be lured by or seek an orchestrated exit by Assad that could be presented as the work of the people, particularly if he doubts Assad can hang onto power for long and sees a chance of Moscow maintaining influence. – Reuters