Germany urges Russia to change line on Syria after vote

Fri Mar 9, 2012 12:22pm EST

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* Russia has been barrier to UN resolution

* Election victory might be cue for change, says minister

By Justyna Pawlak

COPENHAGEN, March 9 (Reuters) - German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle urged Moscow on Friday to change its policy towards Syria in the wake of Russia's presidential election and back a United Nations resolution condemning Damascus.

Russia, along with China, has so far shielded Bashar al-Assad by vetoing two U.N. resolutions backed by Arab states and the West that aimed to force the Syrian president to halt a crackdown on protesters and cede power.

Moscow has argued against calls for regime change in Syria. Earlier this week, the Russian foreign ministry said Vladimir Putin's victory in the presidential election on March 4 would not be followed by a shift in policy.

But Westerwelle, speaking on the sidelines of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Copenhagen, said the Russian election might provide an opportunity for Moscow to change its stance.

"I hope that Russia has a clearer view after the election. It is crucial that the U.N. Security Council gives a clear statement that shows that we stand by the people of Syria and are against violence and repression," he told reporters.

"We hope that after the election in Russia there is new movement possible. We will see this in the next days and hours."

Russia, which is Syria's main arms supplier and has use of a naval base there, has voiced anger over NATO air strikes that helped Libyan rebels drive Muammar Gaddafi from power last year. It has warned against any U.N. move that could open the way for similar action in Syria.

The five permanent U.N. Security Council members - the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China - and Morocco met behind closed doors on Tuesday to discuss a new resolution drafted by the United States, urging an end to the Syrian government's crackdown.

A combination of international sanctions and pressure has failed to persuade Assad's government to stop violence so far. On Friday, more than 30 people were killed by government forces.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said up to 10,000 people have been killed so far in the year-long revolt.

Westerwelle reiterated German opposition to any military intervention in Syria.

"Any discussion about military intervention is counterproductive," he said. "We have three goals, to stop the violence, humanitarian aid and peaceful transition." (Reporting by Justyna Pawlak; Editing by Sebastian Moffett and Andrew Roche)

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