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Middle east

Putin, Merkel push for political solution in Syria

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2012-06-01

The German and Russian leaders said nothing could be done “by force” in Syria, insisting on a political solution to the crisis at a joint press conference in Berlin Friday. Moscow faces mounting pressure to take tougher measures against the violence.

AFP - Germany and Russia agreed on the need for a political solution to end the Syrian bloodshed, their leaders said here Friday, as Vladimir Putin warned the country could be on the brink of civil war.

The Russian president said the situation in strife-wracked Syria was "extremely dangerous" but underlined his opposition to military intervention, after meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the second leg of his first foreign tour since returning to the Kremlin.

Amid mounting pressure for Moscow to drop its resistance to tougher UN action on Syria, Putin, who was later due in Paris, warned at a joint press conference with Merkel: "You cannot do anything by force."

"Today we are seeing emerging elements of civil war," he said after arriving in Berlin from Belarus.

Putin insisted that Russia did not deliver arms to be deployed in civil strife such as Syria's.

"As far as arms supplies are concerned, Russia does not supply the weapons that could be used in a civil conflict," he said.

Putin's brief trips to Berlin and Paris come amid mounting outrage in the West against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime after a massacre of 108 people, including women and children, in the town of Houla last week.

The UN's top human rights chief said the massacre could be a crime against humanity.

Putin said Russia, Germany and their partners would do their utmost to stop the violence from escalating and help UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, who has brokered a peace plan for Syria, achieve "positive results".

"We both made clear that we are pushing for a political solution, that the Annan plan can be a starting point but that everything must be done in the United Nations Security Council to implement this plan," Merkel said.

Her comments set a more conciliatory tone after the United States criticised Moscow over its stance on Syria and new French President Francois Hollande, who meets Putin later in Paris, refused to rule out foreign military intervention as long as it is carried out with UN backing.

Putin said Moscow was not taking sides in the strife rocking Syria, where the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says 13,000 people have been killed since Assad's regime launched a brutal crackdown on the opposition in March last year.

"This is what we talked about with the German chancellor -- to find a political solution to these problems. Can it be done or not? On the whole, I believe it is possible," Putin said.

"It requires certain professionalism and patience. You cannot do anything by force and expect an immediate effect. A lot of people are involved in the conflict with various interests.

"There is a need to find a convergence of these interests and have them sit down at a negotiating table. That's the direction we are going to work in."

Merkel earlier greeted Putin with military honours as demonstrators waving Syrian flags shouted and whistled outside.

Another protestor held a banner in the shape of a Russian flag with the Russian words "Putin is a thief" emblazoned across it.

"We were agreed that every country -- I said this for the Federal Republic of Germany -- must do everything to prevent a civil war and prevent more people suffering," Merkel told reporters.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague also said Syria was on the verge of a civil war, after meeting members of the Syrian opposition based in Istanbul.

Germany, France, Britain, the United States and other Western nations expelled Syrian diplomats in protest at the slaughter in Houla.

Syria allies China and Russia, which have both blocked previous attempts at the UN Security Council to condemn Damascus, joined other council members on Sunday in backing a statement condemning the Houla killings.

But US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday warned that Russia's policy of propping up the Assad regime could contribute to a civil war and even lead to a wider proxy war because of Iran's support for Damascus.

And she claimed Friday that Russia had continued to supply arms to the Assad regime, raising "serious concerns" in the United States.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle will head to the region for talks on finding a way out of the Syrian crisis, a foreign ministry spokesman told reporters without giving details.

Amnesty International demanded that Putin immediately stop Russian weapons deliveries to Syria, while Human Rights Watch called for the Russian leader to make human rights a priority at home and abroad.

Date created : 2012-06-01

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