By Lada Korotun and Alexander Vatutin
“The crisis in Syria must be settled without foreign interference”, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said during a meeting with a senior leader of the Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalioun in Moscow on Tuesday.
Sergei Lavrov urged members of the SNC to immediately join the implementation of the Arab League`s initiative to settle the crisis through diplomatic talks between the government and the opposition. The talks in Moscow focused on finding the means to stop the bloodshed in Syria, and this is where President Assad`s critics expect Moscow to tak an active role as a mediator.
In the meantime, Moscow announced that supporting the opposition does not mean accepting the president`s resignation, which is demanded by the SNC. Even the Arab League does not submit such kind of demands. When asked by the VoR`s correspondent to comment on the issue, Mr. Ghalioun said that Assad must go as the only remaining obstacle in the way to democracy:
“He has not fulfilled any of the conditions set forward by the League. The initiative urged to halt the bloodshed in Syria. As we know, between 20 and 40 civilians are being killed in Syria every day. Obviously, this impedes the negotiation process. The initiative also demands the release of all political prisoners. Assad has not freed anyone. He must order a crackdown on his special forces since they have been terrorizing the local population. And finally, the Arab League`s initiative stresses that those officials who are found responsible for killing the demonstrators must be prosecuted,” Burhan Ghalioun said.
Deputy speaker of the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, Ilyas Umakhanov, who was also present at the talks in Moscow, told the VoR that although the sides failed to agree on all the issues on the agenda, they still see eye to eye on many crucial things:
“Russia has repeatedly stated its position which is about diplomacy and dialogue. Moscow opposes any third country interference into a state`s domestic policies, not to mention the use of force. We believe that the Syrian nation should decide its future by way of peaceful democratic reforms.”
On his part, Burhan Ghalioun said the Syrian opposition insists that the UN Security Council should ensure the security of protest campaigns:
“The Syrian nation is very sensitive to any interference from outside. We always say that we want to resolve our issues ourselves. We have asked our Russian friends to help us with it meaning that Russia, together with international organizations, the West, and the Arab League would create a balance of forces to guarantee a peaceful and calm way out of the crisis.”
The protection of civilians does not imply military interference but involves sending observers from the UN, for example, UN blue helmets, to Syria, Ghalioun said. He added that if the opposition comes to power in Syria, Russia’s interests in Syria will be fully observed:
“During these talks, we managed to remove serious tension between the Syrian opposition and Russia. Our Russian friends have come to better understanding of what is going on in Syria and that all the efforts should be aimed at meeting the Syrians’ needs for freedom and democracy.”
As for the conflict in Israel, here Syria’s position is also unchangeable. Ghalioun said that the opposition would resume talks with Israel from the point at which they had been halted by the current regime. The return of the occupied territories, the Golan Heights, and the creation of a Palestinian state are the principal demands of the Syrian party. However, these issues will need to be discussed at future talks.