By Dalal Mawad and Rick Gladstone
THE NEW YORK TIMES
Russia pressured ally Syrian President Bashar Assad on Monday to be more flexible about the future of his ravaged country, insisting that he talk with adversaries, inviting an anti-Assad delegation to the Kremlin and restricting shipments of new weapons to Assad’s armed forces.
Taken together, the developments appeared to signal that Russia might be laying the basis for the option of eventually distancing itself from Assad, who has insisted that he enjoys popular support.
The Syrian leader, who has presided over the suppression of an uprising that by some estimates has left as many as 17,000 people dead, has lost much international credibility.
At the same time Assad has sought to portray himself as a willing peace partner. He met Monday with the special representative from the United Nations and Arab League, Kofi Annan, whose peace plan was announced more than three months ago but has foundered.
Annan said after the meeting that they had devised a new way to proceed, but he didn’t offer an explanation.
While Russia has insisted throughout the uprising that it will block any foreign military intervention in Syria, it has shown increasing impatience with Assad. In recent weeks Russian officials have said they weren’t wedded to his tenure in power and that the Syrians must decide their own leaders. Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to sharpen the tone of the message in remarks Monday at the Foreign Ministry in Moscow.
“We must do as much as possible to force the conflicting sides to reach a peaceful political solution to all contentious questions,” he said.
Putin spoke as a delegation of opposition figures representing the Syrian National Council, the main anti-Assad umbrella group, traveled to Moscow at the invitation of Russia’s Foreign Ministry. Delegation leaders described their visit as a test of Russia’s willingness to be more flexible on Syria.
Russia’s ambivalent position on Assad appeared to be reflected Monday in statements by Russian military industry officials, who suggested an intention to limit the weaponry they would furnish to Syria.
Vyacheslav Dzirkaln, the deputy director of the Service for Military-Technical Cooperation, was quoted by Russia’s state-run news agency, RIA Novosti, as saying no new types of Russian weapons would be sent until the conflict subsided.
But Vyachislav Davidenko, a spokesman for Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state arms exporter, clarified in a telephone interview that Russia still intended to service any existing military contracts with Syria.R Soft Web Hosting