France calls Syrian president's promises "manipulation"

PARIS Wed Feb 8, 2012 7:51am EST

PARIS (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's promises to Russia to implement reforms and end an 11-month crackdown against protesters are a "manipulation" that France does not believe, Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said on Wednesday.

"It is a manipulation and we are not going to fall for it," Juppe told France Info radio when asked if he believed Assad was being sincere. "It's not the first time someone has gone to meet Bashar and been given guarantees."

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met Assad in Damascus on Tuesday, where he said both nations wanted to revive an Arab League monitoring effort that was suspended due to violence and push ahead with a reform program.

Paris, which helped draft a U.N. resolution with Arab League backing that was vetoed by Russia and China, is working on creating an international group to bring together all those opposed to the violence, which it says has cost more than 6,000 lives since street protests began.

"I recall my Turkish colleague telling me that he had spent six hours with Bashar to convince him and then the next day there were 100 dead," Juppe said. "I absolutely don't believe the commitments of the Syrian regime, which is discredited."

Syrian forces thrust into the rebellious city of Homs on Wednesday, killing dozens of civilians according to opposition activists.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Saturday that Paris was consulting various countries to create a Syrian contact group to support the opposition and find a solution to the crisis, using the Arab League plan as its basis.

Juppe said Paris wanted to bring together the 13 members of the Security Council that approved the U.N. resolution, as well as the European Union and Arab states. It was unclear if the French plan was the same as a Turkish proposal to host an international conference to discuss the crisis.

"We want to do this to put as much pressure on Russia, to show it that it is in an impasse and completely isolated, and on Assad, to back the transition plan proposed by the Arab League," Juppe said.

A French diplomatic source said the various plans were likely to converge in the next 48 hours.

Sarkozy is due to speak to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev later on Wednesday, said government spokeswoman Valerie Pecresse.

(Additional reporting by Emmanuel Jarry; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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