Medvedev tells Cameron to go slow on Syria

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Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told British Prime Minister David Cameron Monday it would be a mistake to put more pressure on Syria's regime for its crackdown on the opposition.

Medvedev told reporters after talks with Cameron that the difference between Russia's approach to its traditional regional ally and that taken by the West was "not dramatic".

But he stressed that any punitive actions must be applied equally to both sides of the Syria conflict because the opposition was continuing to reject calls to engage Assad in direct talks.

"This resolution must be strict, but it must not lead to the automatic application of sanctions," Medvedev said in reference to a UN Security Council action proposed by Western powers.

Russia has blocked previous attempts by the world governing body to sanction President Bashar al-Assad's regime and is promoting a separate draft resolution that simply calls on both sides to open direct talks.

Medvedev last week also called some of those protesting against Assad "terrorists" and refused to agree with Western states that no longer recognise Assad's legitimacy.

"Syria is already facing a large number of sanctions imposed by both the European Union and the United States, and additional pressure is absolutely unnecessary at this time," Medvedev said.

Cameron for his part acknowledged that he and Medvedev had essentially failed to breach their gap on the dispute.

"There is a difference of perspective between Russia and Britain on this issue," Cameron said.

"Clearly, Britain would like to go further. We do not see a future for Assad."

The two leaders' inability to agree on Syria came amid renewed efforts by Russia to play the role of key mediator in a region where it has lost much of its influence since Soviet times.

Cameron's arrival in Moscow coincided with that of Assad's media adviser Bouthaina Shaaban and followed a separate round of talks between a top Russian politician and Syrian opposition activists.

Assad's adviser said after talks with the upper house of parliament's foreign affairs chief Mikhail Margelov that Syria favoured the cautious reform process seen in Russia since the Soviet Union's collapse.

"In the past 20 years, Russia has undergone various processes that led to structural changes," Shaaban said.

"We want things in Syria to develop the way they did in Russia, in a bloodless manner."

Margelov for his part announced that he had received Assad's approval to send a group of Russian senators to Damascus and other Syrian cities to independently report on the situation on the ground.

The Russian official said Syrian opposition leaders had also approved the proposal during Friday's talks in Moscow.

© 2011 AFP

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