France sees 'crimes against humanity' in Syria
France on Wednesday accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime of committing crimes against humanity and expressed hope that Russia would soon back sanctions against its old regional ally.
"The Syrian regime has committed crimes against humanity," French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said during talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
"The way it (the Syrian regime) suppressed the popular protests is unacceptable," France's top diplomat said after a round of Moscow meetings that included talks with President Dmitry Medvedev.
Juppe was accompanied by French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet for delicate negotiations that also touched on recent disagreements over Libya and the phased withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan.
But both sides acknowledged that one of their most immediate disagreements concerned finding a peaceful solution to a Syria crisis that comes on the heels of a Libya war that also deeply upset Moscow.
"I hope Russia will back us in the Security Council even if our positions do not yet fully agree," Juppe said in reference to Russia's past decisions to block UN condemnation of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government.
Juppe said the Syrian authorities should be sent "a powerful signal that such actions cannot continue."
But Lavrov gave no signs of being ready to ease a Russian position that last week saw Moscow lash the European Union for imposing a crippling oil embargo on the Arab state.
"We are convinced that the essential thing is to start dialogue at the talks table," Lavrov said.
"We consider that inciting certain forces within the opposition to boycott the invitation to dialogue is a dangerous path and risks a repetition of the Libyan scenario, which neither Russia nor France wants."
Moscow has instead been calling for political dialogue and urging world powers to put more pressure on the opposition to engage in direct talks with Assad's regime.
Russia has staunchly opposed attempts by Western governments to push through a UN Security Council resolution targeting Assad and has circulated an alternative draft calling for the Syrian leadership to implement reforms.
"Russia has submitted to the UN Security Council a draft resolution that calls on all sides to cease any violence and appeals to the Syrian leadership to more actively push the reforms that have already been started," Lavrov said.
The resolution also "appeals to the opposition not to resort to armed provocations... and not to turn down the invitation to dialogue," he said.
Members of the Syrian opposition will meet Mikhail Margelov -- the upper house of parliament's foreign affairs committee chief who represents Medvedev in Africa -- on Friday in a bid to convince Russia to be more forceful with Assad.
But a top Russian arms exports official has said that Moscow intended to fulfil its weapons delivery contracts to Syria and Lavrov said Wednesday that the opposition was also responsible for some of the current violence.
"Russia has submitted a draft UN Security Council resolution that calls on all sides to end all types of violence ... and calls on the opposition not to resort to armed provocation, which we have seen before, and not to reject invitations to talks," Lavrov stressed.
© 2011 AFP