Russia urges Syria to ‘make first step,’ call off troops
The Syrian authorities should "make the first step" towards restoring peace in the country by pulling troops and tanks out of rebellious cities and towns, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday, RIA Novosti reported.
"We agree that the Syrian government should make the first step and order the beginning of security forces and army units' pullout from residential areas," the minister said.
However, he said, "ending this process will be impossible without reciprocal steps from those fighting the government."
Lavrov's statement came during his speech at an Armenian university in Yerevan.
The Syrian government, he said, "has made a lot of mistakes over the past year, first of all, in terms of its inadequate reaction to the protest movement," which he said involved "armed provocateurs" along with "peaceful demonstrators."
"The Syrian authorities have been clearly slow to implement reforms - although it would also be wrong to screw up eyes to the fact that reforms do take place," he said.
He described calls by Syrian opposition groups for President Bashar al-Assad to step down as an "invitation for bloodshed," adding that Russia was not considering Assad's removal from power as an option to end the violence in Syria.
More than 9,000 people have been killed in Syria since the breakout of a popular uprising against Assad in March 2011, the UN has estimated. The Syrian authorities blame the unrest on "armed terrorist gangs" affiliated with al-Qaeda.
On Sunday, during a "Friends of the Syrian People" meeting in Istanbul, 70 countries, including the United States, pledged to send several million dollars and communications equipment to Syrian rebels fighting Assad. Russia, which along with China and Syria's main regional ally Iran, was absent from the meeting, criticized the initiative. Lavrov said it was at odds with a peace plan for Syria proposed by UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.
All members of the UN Security Council have backed the Annan Plan, which calls for an immediate ceasefire by both government troops and opposition fighters, provision of humanitarian aid to those in need and launch of a broad Syrian dialogue without foreign intervention.