China avoids clear support for UN peacekeepers in Syria
BEIJING (Reuters) - China's Foreign Ministry Monday backed Arab League mediation in Syria but offered no clear sign of support for its call to send in peacekeepers to halt the Syrian government's violent crackdown on opposition groups.
The Arab League Sunday passed a resolution asking the U.N. Security Council to authorize a joint U.N.-Arab peacekeeping mission to Syria.
The call adds to diplomatic pressure on Russia and China, both heavily criticized by the West for blocking a draft U.N. resolution calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Assad to give up his powers.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin would not be drawn on whether China supports sending in peacekeepers.
"China calls for and supports the Arab League's continued efforts at political mediation, which plays a proactive and constructive role with regard to peaceful settlement of the Syrian issue," Liu said, when asked about the Arab League resolution.
"We believe the United Nations should offer constructive assistance on the basis of the U.N. charter and the norms of international relations," he told a daily news briefing.
"Relevant moves by the United Nations should be conducive toward lessening tension in Syria, pushing political dialogue and resolving differences, as well as maintaining peace and stability in the Middle East, rather than complicating things."
Syria is likely to feature in talks when Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping visits the White House Tuesday. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said China's top diplomat Dai Bingguo and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton discussed the crisis and Xi's trip in a phone call Monday.
Dai, who steers Chinese foreign policy and outranks the foreign minister, defended Beijing's handling of the Syrian crisis, said the Chinese ministry.
"The Syrian problem is essentially an internal one," said Dai.
"All that we have done is candid and above board, and will pass the test of history," Dai's said of Chinese policy on Syria, according to the account on the Chinese Foreign Ministry's website (www.mfa.gov.cn).
Any U.N. peacekeeping mission in Syria needs consensus from foreign powers which have been divided on how to resolve a conflict as it descends into civil war.
The Arab League's resolution did not spell out whether its proposed joint U.N.-Arab peacekeeping force would involve armed troops, or whether the aid offered to the opposition would include weapons.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Monday any peacekeeping troops in Syria should come from non-Western countries.
Syria's uprising, in which the United Nations says more than 5,400 people have been killed, has become one of the bloodiest of the Arab Spring revolts sweeping the region since the end of 2010.
The head of the Arab League, Nabil Elaraby, said China and Russia lost diplomatic credit in the Arab world for their veto of the U.N Security Council draft resolution.
China insists that it is committed to the long-term interests of the Syrian people.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Chris Buckley in Washington; Writing by Michael Martina, Editing by Robert Birsel)
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