Only political process can save Syria from "hell": envoy

Sat Dec 29, 2012 10:12am EST
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By Alissa de Carbonnel

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Syria faces "hell" if no deal is struck to end 21 months of bloodshed, an international mediator said on Saturday, but his talks in Russia brought no sign of a breakthrough after a week of intense diplomacy.

U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov both said there was still a chance for a negotiated solution to the conflict, which has killed more than 44,000 people and set world powers against one another.

But Lavrov repeated Russia's stance that President Bashar al-Assad's removal cannot be a precondition for a political solution, saying that such demands were "wrong" and that the opposition's refusal to talk to the government was a "dead end".

Brahimi said: "If the only alternative is really hell or a political process, then all of us must work ceaselessly for a political process. It is difficult, it is very complicated, but there is no other choice."

Lavrov issued a similar exhortation in a joint appearance at an ornate mansion where he meets foreign dignitaries, saying: "The chance for a political settlement remains and it is our obligation to make maximal use of that chance."

But no major new initiatives were announced and Lavrov, whose country has vetoed three United Nations Security Council resolutions meant to put pressure on Assad, gave no indication it would back down from that stance.

"When the opposition says only Assad's exit will allow it to begin a dialogue about the future of its own country, we think this is wrong, we think this is rather counterproductive," he said. "The costs of this precondition are more and more lives of Syrian citizens."

Russia has tried to distance itself from Assad for months and seems to have stepped up its calls for a peaceful resolution as the rebels have gained ground against government forces in the conflict, which began with peaceful protests in March 2011 but which has descended into a civil war.   Continued...

U.N.-Arab League peace mediator Lakhdar Brahimi (L) of Algeria and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attend a joint news conference in Moscow December 29, 2012. The international mediator seeking to end the 21-month-old conflict in Syria met Russia's foreign minister in Moscow on Saturday after talks in Damascus but expectations of progress toward a negotiated solution were low. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin