Syrian top diplomat in Moscow to preserve Russia support
Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Muallem was in Moscow Tuesday for talks in a bid to persuade Russia to maintain support for the Damascus regime even as hopes for a UN-backed peace plan slipped away.
Russia has been one of very few world powers to offer some support to President Bashar al-Assad in his bloody standoff with protestors but has also backed the plan of UN envoy Kofi Annan to end the violence.
The visit by the veteran foreign minister to Moscow coincides with the deadline under the Annan plan for the Syrian government to withdraw its forces from protest cities which so far it has shown little sign of observing.
"There is the Annan plan, it contains concrete points and we fully support this plan," the Interfax news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov as saying ahead of the talks on Monday.
Muallem, who arrived in Moscow late on Monday, is due to hold talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov followed by a news conference at 0900 GMT.
Russia has repeatedly condemned the West for taking what it says is a one-sided approach in the conflict but has in recent weeks shown signs of growing exasperation with the intransigence of the Assad regime.
Moscow says its position is objective and gives it unmatched influence over Damascus, although rights activists have accused Russia of giving a green light to violence that has already left more than 9,000 dead according to the UN.
Last week Moscow supported a UN Security Council statement calling on Syria to "urgently" move to keep Tuesday's deadline agreed with Annan to withdraw troops and weapons from protest cities.
"Damascus risks losing Moscow. The failure of the Kofi Annan plan could cost Bashar al-Assad dear," said the Nezavisimaya Gazeta liberal daily.
Assad's secular regime has been able until now to count on Moscow as a friend, in a long standing alliance that goes back to the warm relations between the Soviet Union and his predecessor and father Hafez al-Assad.
The Russian foreign ministry made clear last week that the "development of the traditionally friendly and multi-faceted Russia-Syria relations" would be discussed at the talks.
© 2012 AFP