Russia and France contemplate global hotspots in Moscow

The Russian and French foreign ministers have met in Moscow, where they discussed the international security situation, including Libya’s gradual transition, NATO’s pullout from Afghanistan and the Syrian crisis.

­On the question of Libya, which is struggling to return to some sort of normality following a protracted, months-long battle between Gaddafi loyalists and anti-government forces, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said his country was looking forward to working with the United Nations to get the embattled North African nation back on its feet.

"Concerning Libya, we agree that the outcomes of the international conference (held in Paris on September 1) should turn the entire situation on to a political track, a track that gives assistance to all Libyan forces to reach a consensus on building a democratic, territorially integrated, efficient, and viable state," Lavrov said at a press conference following the 10th session of the Russian-French Security Co-operation Council held in Moscow on Wednesday.

Both the French and Russian sides agreed that the UN must play a leading role in Libya’s reconstruction process, which promises to be an uphill climb.

Meanwhile, Alain Juppe, the French foreign minister, admitted that Moscow and Paris have not always agreed on what steps to take regarding the Libyan crisis, but that the important thing is that they are now united.

"With regards to our differences on Libya, we have never tried to hide them, but today we are together, and we agree to participate in the construction of a new Libya in the framework of the Friends of Libya Conference which will be held again in New York in September," Juppe said.

Russia, which abstained from voting on UN Resolution 1973 that opened the door for military operations in Libya, criticized NATO’s handling of the military operation, saying the alliance went beyond the mandate of “protecting civilians.”

Earlier, Lavrov reiterated that the post-conflict settlement of Libya should be held under the aegis of the UN and not some ambiguous structures, such as the so-called Group of the Friends of Libya.

Lavrov then mentioned that he and his French counterpart would participate in the next meeting on Libya rebuilding at the upcoming UN General Assembly session.

"Alain Juppe and I will take part in the next meeting on Libya, which will take place as part of the UN General Assembly session in New York not later than this month," he said.

Lavrov and Juppe also discussed the situation in Afghanistan, another global hotspot, where US and NATO forces have been battling hardened Taliban fighters since “Operation Enduring Freedom” was launched on October 7, 2001. US President Barack Obama has pledged to begin withdrawing troops from the Afghan theater of operations: 10,000 troops are scheduled to be withdrawn by the end of 2011, with an additional 23,000 troops leaving the country by mid-2012.

The Russian minister said the UN Security Council should receive notification as to when the withdrawal will begin.

"Concerning the NATO troops' planned withdrawal from Afghanistan, these troops are based there under a mandate of the UN Security Council,” Lavrov reminded the conference. “Therefore, we hope…that the Security Council will be informed about these plans and about the criteria suggesting that the presence of NATO troops in Afghanistan is no longer needed."

Russia has not been a mere spectator to the fighting in Afghanistan. It is providing over-flight privileges across its territory for US military cargo deliveries, as well as engaging in joint efforts to halt heroin shipments out of the Central Asian country.

Meanwhile, Lavrov stressed that Russia opposes a permanent US military presence in Afghanistan, an idea that has been floated by Washington.

“Russia is against the permanent presence of US military bases in Afghanistan,” Lavrov said.  "The withdrawal [of the coalition troops from Afghanistan] must not be accompanied by their further presence under a different 'umbrella,’ or a different pretext.”

Moscow has already been informed about such plans of this kind and is in talks on this with the Afghan and American sides regarding this subject, he added.

The conversation then turned to Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad is attempting to hold on to his 11-year rule in the face of violent anti-government protests.

Representatives of the Syrian opposition, who are refusing to participate in negotiations with the authorities, may be holding out for foreign assistance. Such a strategy could result in even greater problems for the Arab republic, Lavrov said.

"Rejection of this dialogue means that those in the opposition who have opted for a boycott have actually opted for confrontation and possibly count on foreign assistance, Libya-style," the Russian foreign minister said.

"Such a scenario would open the way for a new wave of bloodshed," he warned. “The Syrian government and opposition must come to terms on their own at a negotiating table.”

Lavrov also described the reforms being carried out in Syria as long overdue.

Among the reforms being introduced in Syria, Lavrov mentioned a fledgling multi-party system, the drafting of a new constitution and plans for general elections.

President Dmitry Medvedev met with members of the Russian-French Security Co-operation Council, which includes the two countries' foreign and defense ministers, at the Kremlin on Wednesday.

Medvedev praised the regular meetings between the Russian and French foreign and defense ministries, saying they had “proven efficient.”

The Council meetings allow Moscow and Paris to "the problem of international co-operation and some delicate issues regarding security, which is necessary for big countries and close partners such as Russia and France," the Russian leader emphasized.

The meeting between Medvedev and the Council members focused on the most significant issues on the bilateral agenda, the discussion

of strategic security mechanisms and principles, as well as prospects for further enhancement of the Russian-French co-operation in the framework of the European Union-Russia and NATO-Russia relationships, a Kremlin source said earlier, as quoted by Interfax.

The 10th session of the Russian-French Security Co-operation Council brought together the Russian and French foreign and defense ministers in the “2+2 format”.

Robert Bridge, RT