REPORTING FROM BEIRUT — A senior Russian official said Monday that Moscow’s veto last week of a United Nations Security Council resolution targeting Syria was not a “blank check” for the government of President Bashar Assad.
“This is, if one can say so, the last call,” Mikhail Margelov, who chairs the Russian Federation Council International Affairs Committee, told reporters in Moscow, according to Interfax News Agency.
The comments came as representatives of Assad’s government and the so-called "internal opposition" — seen by some regime opponents as being too beholden to the regime — were visiting the Russian capital.
Russia has publicly urged its longtime ally to implement reforms in the face of more than six months of unrest that has left almost 3,000 Syrians dead, according to U.N. figures. But Russia has said that government opponents share some responsibility for the bloodshed. Syria blames armed “terrorists” for the violence.
Some observers have questioned whether Moscow is truly pushing for reforms, or is instead launching a diplomatic offensive in a bid to assert its interests in a post-Arab Spring Middle East and save face following last week’s U.N. veto.
The U.N. Security Council resolution had sought to condemn “grave and systematic human rights violations” in Syria. Russia and China viewed the language as a potential pretext for an air assault on their Damascus ally similar to the NATO-led campaign in Libya. U.S. and European diplomats condemned the veto.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said last week that Syria’s leadership should step down if it cannot implement reforms. But that decision, he said, should be taken by the “Syrian people,” and not leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The NATO bombing campaign was essential in the ouster of Moammar Kadafi after more than 40 years in power in Libya.
Russia's decision to block the U.N. resolution “is in no way a blank check for the current ruling regime purporting to let them do what they wish,” said Margelov, who called for a dialogue between the regime and its opponents.
“Time for talks is running out,” Margelov said, according to RIA Novosti, the Russian state news agency. “There is now a need to start taking real actions and untie the knot of conflict in Syria.”
On Sunday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem vowed to implement “tough measures” against any nation that recognizes the legitimacy of the Syrian National Council, an opposition umbrella group that is demanding Assad’s ouster from power. It remained unclear whether opposition council representatives would receive an official invite to Moscow.
— Patrick J. McDonnell
Photo: Members of a Syrian delegation led by the secretary-general of the National Committee for the Unity of Syrian Communists, Qadri Jamil, center, attend a meeting with Russian officials in Moscow on Monday. Credit: Denis Sinyakov / Reuters