Lavrov rebuffs Clinton call to turn screw on Syria

Washington is trying to drum up Moscow’s support to adopt a firm UN Security Council resolution on Syrian violence. The issue was discussed at an urgent meeting of the two countries’ top diplomats in New York.

­The meeting of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was held behind closed doors.

The talks did not end with a breakthrough however, as Russia maintains that only a dialogue between the government and the opposition can result in a settlement in Syria. Moscow believes that mounting foreign pressure on President Assad would encourage the protestors not to compromise in the hope of an intervention similar to the one which happened in Libya.

The US, on the other hand, says more sanctions and condemnation of the Damascus’ crackdown on the protestors are needed for the president to resign and for political reforms to be launched.

“I cannot say that the foreign minister agreed to that, but the secretary’s position was unequivocal. It was firm and it’s a position that we’ll continue to advocate to the Russians and others as we go forward,” a spokesman for the Obama administration told AFP.

Mass rallies against Bashar Assad’s regime have been held in Syria since mid-March. Both sides resorted to violence, which resulted in an estimated number of deaths reaching 2,700 people, according to the UN. The government states the death toll at 1,400 and blames criminals and provocateurs for instilling the clashes.

­Palestine statehood bid disputed

­Lavrov and Clinton also discussed the work of the Middle East Quartet, with both parties agreeing to continue work on a statement which would hopefully pave the way for restart of direct talks between the Palestine Authority and Israel. The talks on the issue were productive.

The diplomats agreed that the quartet should aim at a two-state solution for the decades-old conflict, but disagreed over the bid for statehood which Palestine plans to submit to the United Nations. Moscow supports the move while Washington believes it to be untimely.

On Tuesday Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proposed to hold a meeting with and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on the sidelines of the ongoing UN General Assembly session. Abbas earlier said he would not refuse direct talks with Netanyahu, but refused to do it at such short notice. The Foreign Minister of the Palestinian National Authority Riyad al-Maliki said without proper preparation such a meeting would be pointless and would not bring any results.

The much-anticipated bid is the main highlight of this year’s meeting at the United Nations. Abbas arrived in New York this Sunday and is expected to present the Palestinian bid for statehood to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in the coming days.

Last year, US President Barack Obama told the UN General Assembly that by 2011 the US hopes that Palestine will become a member of the world body.

However Washington’s latest actions have been seen as backtracking, with Palestinian officials referring to it as a stab in the back.

The US has made it clear that it would veto any UN Security Council decision or resolution recognizing Palestinian statehood – which gives the bid an unrealistic chance of being passed.

As many countries support UN membership for Palestine, the Palestinians are then expected to try to go through the UN General Assembly which, with a two-thirds majority, can award non-member observer status to the Palestinians. This would grant them inclusion in a number of international bodies, something the US and Israel oppose.