Russia: Syrian ceasefire must be simultaneous
Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Syrian government forces will not stop fighting and withdraw from positions unless rebel forces instantly mirror their move, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday, underscoring continued divisions between Moscow and the West.

"This must be simultaneous," said Lavrov, whose talks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the United Nations on Monday brought no agreement on how to end more than a year of bloodshed in Syria.

"There must not be a situation where it is demanded that the government leave cities and towns and the same not demanded of armed groups," he said when asked about Syria at a news conference following talks with the Filipino foreign minister.

Lavrov's remarks underscored a rift with Western powers in the U.N. Security Council, who say President Bashar al-Assad's government should take the first step.

The Russian foreign minister bluntly dismissed that demand, saying Assad's government would not accept it.

"A unilateral withdrawal of government forces is absolutely unrealistic," he said. "The Syrian authorities will not do this, whether we want it or not, and everybody understands this perfectly well."

After private talks with Lavrov on the sidelines of a special U.N. Security Council meeting on the Arab Spring uprisings, Clinton told reporters: "First and foremost the Assad government has to end the violence".

"Once the Syrian government has acted, then we would expect others as well to end the violence," she said.

Assad's army has led a year-long crackdown the United Nations says has killed well over 7,500 civilians.

Along with China, Russia used its veto power in the Security Council on February 4 to block a Western-Arab resolution that would have condemned Assad's government for the violence and backed an Arab League call for him to step aside.

Russia says it is motivated not by a desire to protect Assad, whose country has given Moscow its strongest foothold in the Middle East, but by a determination oppose external intervention in a sovereign state.


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