Zuma, Medvedev pressure NATO on Libya
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Monday hosted South Africa's president and the NATO chief at meetings aimed at pressuring the Western alliance to push for a peace settlement in Libya.
Medvedev met the South African leader Jacob Zuma at his Black Sea resort residence and was later to hold talks with NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen and ambassadors from other alliance members.
The Russian leader immediately proposed that he and Zuma jointly appear before the NATO chiefs and explain their discomfort with the current course of the campaign.
"I would like for them to hear, both from me and possibly from you Mr president, our opinion about what is happening in this country," Medvedev said.
Zuma replied that meeting with NATO "would be very helpful in terms of our interaction, because they might come to know what preoccupies the AU at the moment".
South Africa announced Zuma's visit on Sunday after an African Union (AU) summit sought to push a regional peace plan to end the Libyan conflict -- a blueprint rejected by the rebels thus far.
Russia has advocated the AU taking a leading role in the negotiations and Medvedev's personal envoy Mikhail Margelov held talks in Libya with both representatives of the rebels and Moamer Kadhafi's regime last month.
One of the new elements in the road map agreed by the AU on Friday included provisions for a multinational peacekeeping force organised by the United Nations.
But the rebels have thus far rejected the settlement terms proposed by the AU and Russia has also failed to convince Kadhafi to leave.
"It did not include the departure of Kadhafi, his sons and his inner circle. We have repeated this (demand) on more than one occasion," rebel spokesman Abdel Hafiz Ghoga told reporters in Libya's second-largest city Benghazi.
The eccentric former Russian governor and current World Chess Federation (FIDE) chief Kirsan Ilyumzhinov told a Moscow news agency from Tripoli that he had just met the Libyan leader's eldest Muhammad and was again told that Kadhafi would never go.
The rebels -- who pulled back from the plains on the road to Tripoli from the Nafusa Mountains last week -- have been buoyed by controversial French arms drops and intensified NATO-led air strikes against Kadhafi's frontline armour.
But South African officials said on condition of anonymity that Zuma and Medvedev could issue a joint statement calling on NATO to stop the air strikes.
Zuma and Russia have both criticised the French arms drops and the AU has further condemned the international arrest warrant issued for Kadhafi by the Hague-based International Criminal Court.
The Kremlin issued a firm statement ahead of Medvedev's talks with the NATO chief repeating its condemnation of "outside interference" in Libya.
Russia abstained from a vote on a March UN Security Council resolution that opened the way for international involvement and has since criticised the scale and intent of the Western campaign.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov emerged from a Russia-NATO Council meeting indicating that the two sides did little to bridge their positions.
"We exchanged opinions about how strictly the international legal standards -- including Security Council resolutions -- are being observed" in Libya, RIA Novosti quoted Lavrov as saying.
Previous NATO-Russia discussions have focused on controversies such as the bloc's decision to push ahead with the construction of a missile defence shield for Europe despite Moscow's objections.
The rebels received a new boost on Sunday when Turkey, previously a leading sceptic within NATO on the alliance's air campaign, gave de facto recognition to their Benghazi-based provisional government.
"We think the National Transitional Council is the legitimate representative of the Libyan people," visiting Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in Benghazi.
© 2011 AFP