* Lavrov says urged Syria to abide by commitments
* Repeats emphasis on need for opponents to end violence
* Urges Annan to step up efforts to ensure rebels cease fire
By Nastassia Astrasheuskaya and Thomas Grove
MOSCOW, April 10 Russia urged the Syrian
government on Tuesday to act "more decisively" to implement
international envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan but said the
opposition must also comply and called on other nations to use
their influence to promote a ceasefire.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking after talks
with his Syrian counterpart, balanced a message of pressure on
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government with pointed words
for his foes and for Western and Arab states.
"We told our Syrian colleagues ... we think their actions
could be more active, more decisive in regard to the fulfillment
of the points of the plan," Lavrov told reporters at a joint
briefing with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem.
"We spoke very frankly about this," said Lavrov, whose
country has shielded Assad during more than a year of bloodshed
and is under pressure to push him into compliance with Annan's
plan for a government withdrawal to start on Tuesday and a
ceasefire on April 12.
Moualem said Damascus had already pulled back some of its
troops from cities and that Syria wanted a say in the
composition of an international team to observe implementation
of a ceasefire. The Russian Foreign ministry said Moualem told
Lavrov some forces had been withdrawn from Homs.
"We are insistently demanding from our Syrian colleagues the
strict fulfillment of their commitments," Lavrov said.
However, he added, "it is clear that success is possible
only if the rest of the members of the international community
who have influence on the Syrian sides ... approach this task
with the same sense of responsibility."
Moscow "cannot ignore the well-known fact that Annan's
proposals still have not been accepted by several if not the
majority of opposition groups, including the ... Syrian National
Council," he said.
Russia has blocked U.N. Security Council resolutions
condemning Syria for the bloodshed but has sought to distance
itself from Assad lately in a sign it wants to improve its image
and retain influence if he leaves power.
In a telephone conversation with Annan after the talks with
Moualem, Lavrov urged the U.N.-Arab League envoy to step up
efforts to ensure Syrian opposition groups adhere to his
ceasefire plan, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Lavrov "put special emphasis on the fact that the Syrian
opposition and countries supporting it must also take urgent
measures aimed at providing for a stable ceasefire, calling on
Annan to increase work with them in that direction," it said.
DAMASCUS DEMANDS GUARANTEES
Moualem said Damascus wanted guarantees from Annan that
armed groups attacking its troops would commit to a ceasefire.
"We will not ask the terrorist groups, which are killing,
kidnapping and destroying infrastructure, for guarantees. We
want Annan to give us these guarantees," he said, adding that an
end of violence "must be simultaneous with the arrival of the
He also said Annan told him in a recent telephone call that
a ceasefire would be followed by disarming of the rebels.
Lavrov challenged Western and Arab states, which have
pledged support for opposition groups and called for Assad's
"It would be better for the United States and other
countries with direct access to various Syrian opposition groups
not to point at Russia and China, but to set their levers in
motion to ... force everybody to stop shooting at one another."
"We want once again today to call on all opposition (groups)
and all states that have influence on the political and
especially the armed opposition to use the influence with the
aim of an immediate ceasefire by all sides."
Lavrov said Moualem told him the government had begun
implementing requirements regarding "the use of artillery and
heavy weapons" in Syrian cities.
Lavrov said Russia had agreed to a request from the United
Nations to contribute observers.
Syria has given post-Soviet Russia its firmest foothold in
the Middle East, buying billions of dollars' worth of weapons
and hosting a maintenance and supply facility that is Russia's
only warm-water naval port outside the former Soviet Union.