Zuma seeks Libya solution in Russia

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South African President Jacob Zuma was Monday to meet Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev on the sidelines of a NATO meeting in an apparent bid to find a peaceful solution to the Libya crisis.

A Kremlin official said Zuma would hold talks with Medvedev at 0930 GMT in the Black Sea resort but refused to provide further details.

South Africa announced his 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.

South African officials said on condition of anonymity that Zuma and Medvedev would likely issue a joint statement calling on NATO to stop air strikes against Kadhafi regime targets.

There has been no indications from officials on whether Zuma also planned to meet NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen who is in Sochi for a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council that is also taking place on Monday.

Zuma and Russia have both criticised last week's French arms drop to the Libyan rebels 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 the Medvedev's talks with the NATO chief repeating its condemnation of "outside interference" in the Libyan conflict.

"The only possibility for stabilising the situation in Libya involves an immediate ceasefire and the start of dialogue involving Libyan participants in the conflict," the Kremlin said.

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 the 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.

Lavrov last week argued that the French arms drop broke a previous arms embargo on Libya and the two sides' varying interpretations of the UN resolution have threatened Russia's support in conflicts in Syria and Iran.

Previous NATO-Russia discussions have focused on controversies such at the bloc's decision to push ahead with the construction of a missile defence shield for Europe despite Moscow's objections.

But the missile talks have sputtered in recent months after NATO's rejection of a Russian offer to jointly operate the shield.

Moscow has expressed concern that the system may one day be expanded to threaten Russia's own nuclear capabilities or otherwise be turned into an offensive weapon that can launch an attack from space.

Russian news agencies said Rasmussen said in opening remarks in Sochi that the importance lay in achieving a lasting rather than a quick solution to the missile defence system dispute.

© 2011 AFP

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