Syria: West hands Russia diplomatic coup

Western powers, demanding Assad step down, lambasted Russia for this. It cost them a show of diplomatic unity against Assad, in the absence of will to take concrete steps on the ground.

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    In resisting two previous United Nations resolutions on Syria, Russia's position was that the texts were unbalanced and aimed at regime change. It insisted both sides should cease fire and begin negotiations, without preconditions or ultimatums.

    Western powers, demanding that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step down, lambasted Russia for this. It cost them a show of diplomatic unity against Assad, in the absence of will to take concrete steps on the ground.

    Wednesday's presidential statement includes calls for both sides to cease fire and engage in negotiations. It includes the Russian position that these should occur with no preconditions, timelines or ultimatums.

    In watering down the statement, it would appear that the other permanent members of the UN Security Council have handed Russia (and China) a diplomatic coup - a statement that actually endorses Russia's position, for which it was previously villified.

    It essentially leaves the way open for talks with Assad at the table.

    Reactions at the security council have been muted. The US calls it a "modest step forward". Russia welcomed a document that "does not contain any ultimatums, threats or assertions who is guilty."

    Activists and analysts have greeted it with grim mirth and sarcasm. Here are some tweets posted on the Guardian's live blog:

    @false_dawn says: "UN says #Assad should pull back troops and allow demonstrations. What a FANTASTIC idea Kofi. Please come again."

    @LeShaque, another user, says "The 'international community' has become a joke. And not a funny one. #Syria".

    Also on Twitter, there was this from Salman Shaikh, the director of the Doha centre of the Brookings Institution, a think tank:

    "I am a hardened #UN-phile. That is why it pains me to say latest UN Presidential Statement on #Syria is not worth the paper it is printed on".

    Syria's state news agency, meanwhile, carried a report headlined, "No warnings or signals in the statement".


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