Russian envoy arrives in Syria for talks

Feb. 7, 2012 at 10:19 AM
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DAMASCUS, Syria, Feb. 7 (UPI) -- Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and head of foreign intelligence Mikhail Fradkov arrived in Damascus Tuesday to meet with Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Russia "firmly intends to seek the swiftest stabilization of the situation in Syria on the basis of the swiftest implementation of democratic reforms whose time has come," Lavrov said.

Syria has been a key Middle Eastern client state of Moscow since 1971. The arrival of the Russian representatives comes three days after Russia and China vetoed a U.N. Security Council measure condemning Assad's crackdown on protesters and calling for him to be replaced by a unity government.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice called the vetoes "disgusting," saying Russia and China "will have any future blood spill on their hands." U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced them as a "travesty." Washington Monday closed its embassy in Damascus, saying the situation had deteriorated to the point where the safety of embassy staff could no longer be guaranteed.

"There are some in the West who have given evaluations of the vote on Syria in the United Nations Security Council that sound, I would say, indecent and perhaps on the verge of hysterical," Lavrov said. "Those who get angry are rarely right."

He said Russia had been willing to come to a consensus with other council members but its proposed amendments were shot down Saturday and the resolution was put to a vote in a "hasty" way that all but invited Russia's veto to make Moscow look bad.

"We asked [supporters of the anti-Assad resolution] to wait a few days before putting it to a vote," so he and Fradkov could travel to Syria for the Assad meeting, Lavrov said. "But they thought it more important to transfer the blame for what is happening.

Syrian forces killed at least 128 people nationwide Monday, mostly in Homs, the opposition Syrian Revolution General Commission said. On Tuesday, 21 people were killed in Homs, CNN reported.

Mousa Azzawi of the Syrian Network for Human Rights told CNN, "the situation is very dire," saying Monday was "like a bloodbath."

U.N. officials estimate about 6,000 people have died since the uprising began almost a year ago.

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