UK seeks to increase pressure on Syrian president


David Cameron and William Hague were today involved in high-level international talks to ratchet up pressure on Syrian President Bashar Assad in the wake of the massacre of more than 100 people, including women and small children.

The Foreign Secretary flew to Moscow for talks with opposite number Sergei Lavrov to try to secure Russian backing for a fresh United Nations Security Council resolution against the Assad regime and to warn of the danger of "all-out civil war" in the Middle Eastern state.

But continuing differences between Russia and the West surfaced, as Mr Lavrov said it appeared both the regime and rebel forces had a hand in the bloodshed and declined to join Mr Hague in calling for Assad to stand down.

Syria's claims that its troops came under attack from heavily-armed rebels and were not to blame for the massacre in the town of Houla have otherwise been given short shrift, including by the UN, which last night accused the Assad regime of "an outrageous use of force".

The regime's charge d'affaires in London was summoned to the Foreign Office for a dressing-down over what political director Sir Geoffrey Adams described as "a sickening and evil crime" which had cost the lives of 108 people, including 49 children and 34 women.

Sir Geoffrey told the Syrian diplomat that Britain wanted all those responsible to be identified and held accountable and warned of "further quick and robust action" from the international community unless all military operations ceased immediately.

Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, who is acting as the international community's envoy on Syria, today voiced his personal horror at the killings, as he visited Damascus for face-to-face talks with Assad.

Mr Annan called on the regime to halt violence and urged "every individual with a gun" to lay down their arms.

Mr Cameron and French President Francois Hollande discussed the situation by phone, reaffirming their "full support" for Annan's six-point peace plan, which envisages a truce leading to dialogue between the government and opposition aimed at a Syrian-led political transition.

The Prime Minister and Mr Hollande agreed that the Friends of Syria Group should meet in Paris, and said they wanted to work with Russia to find a resolution to the crisis.

Mr Lavrov voiced Moscow's support for the Annan plan, but made clear that Russia is not seeking Assad's removal, telling a press conference: "For us it's not the most important thing who is in power in Syria. For us the main thing is to provide for the end of all violence."

Russia, which has an important naval base in Syria, has repeatedly shielded Damascus from action by the United Nations Security Council during the year-long uprising which has cost up to 15,000 lives.

Speaking alongside Mr Hague, Mr Lavrov said Moscow wanted Syria to sort out its problems "without foreign interference" and stressed the need to "respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty" of the country.

Foreign Office minister Lord Howell today told Parliament there had been a change in the Russian position, but it was unclear whether Moscow would back a fresh UN resolution.

"It's perfectly true that Russia has joined, as all civilised responsible nations must to, in condemnation of these revolting events," Lord Howell told the House of Lords. "But then the question comes beyond that as to whether the UN Security Council is prepared in a united way to take further actions."

The Security Council will discuss Syria again tomorrow, ahead of a report on Wednesday from Mr Annan.

Downing Street said that the Syrian authorities had treated the ceasefire initiated last month by the former UN chief with "contempt".

A spokesman said: "Faced with this unacceptable situation and the regime's contempt for the ceasefire, the Prime Minister and (French) President agreed to act together to increase the pressure of the international community on Assad and to bring an end to the bloody suppression of the Syrian people who aspire to freedom and democracy.

"They reaffirmed their full support for the mission of UN and Arab League special joint envoy Kofi Annan, and the effective implementation of its peace plan for Syria.

"Annan must have the means necessary to carry out the mission entrusted to him in very difficult conditions and the regime in Damascus must immediately co-operate fully with him."

Mr Hague acknowledged that Britain and Russia had not always seen eye-to-eye on Syria, but characterised today's discussions with Mr Lavrov as "good and frank and honest" and said Moscow had "a role to play" in resolving the situation.

"We are very much agreed that the Annan plan is the best hope for Syria at the moment, the only hope for Syria to try to break the cycle of violence," he said.

The only alternative to the Annan plan was "ever-increasing chaos in Syria and a descent closer and closer to all-out civil war and collapse", warned Mr Hague.

"There needs to be a fundamental change in the approach of the Assad regime if Syria is to be saved from ever greater chaos and disorder, which wouldn't be in the interests of Russia or any other country in the world."

Mr Hollande is expected to press Vladimir Putin to exert his influence on Assad to rein in his security forces when the Russian President visits Paris on June 1.


Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager / Financial Services

£30000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established in 1999, a highly r...

Recruitment Genius: Medical & Economic Writer / Consultant

£23000 - £70000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for a Me...

Jemma Gent: Year End Accountant

£250-£300 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Are you a qualified accountant with strong exp...

Jemma Gent: Management Accountant

£230 - £260 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Do you want to stamp your footprint in histo...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower