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U.S. calls out Russia for supporting Syrian regime

By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times –

BEIRUT — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton accused Moscow on Thursday of contributing to a possible “catastrophic” civil war in Syria.

The Russians “keep telling me they don’t want to see a civil war, and I have been telling them their policy is going to help contribute to a civil war,” Clinton said.

Russia’s actions in Syria are not a “stabilizing influence,” Clinton said.

The Russians “are, in effect, propping up the regime at a time when we should be working on a political transition,” Clinton said during a visit to Denmark.

At the United Nations, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice described reports of Russian arms shipments to Syria as “reprehensible” after accounts surfaced that a weapons-laden Russian ship arrived in the port of Tartus last weekend.

There was no information from Moscow on the reported recent arms shipment, but in the past Russian officials have defended weapons sales to Syria as essential for Syria’s self defense.

Russia has been the most potent international ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, twice vetoing United Nations Security Council resolutions that could have led to sanctions or other actions against the Syrian government for its crackdown on dissent. Washington and its allies in the West and the Arab world have called for Assad to step down. In February, Rice said she was “disgusted” by a Russian veto of a resolution condemning the Assad administration.

There has been no sign that Russia would change its stance on Syria after the massacre last week of more than 100 people, mostly children and women, in the Syrian township of Houla — an event that galvanized international outrage against the Syrian government.

Although U.S. and U.N. officials have said the evidence in the case points to pro-government militiamen as the killers, Russia has responded that both government and rebel forces were probably involved in the massacre.

On Thursday, Syrian authorities again denied responsibility for the Houla killings and blamed the deaths on anti-government “armed gangs.” Rice dismissed that as a “blatant lie.”

On Sunday, Russia did sign off on a nonbinding Security Council statement condemning Syria for its use of artillery and tanks in Houla. But that did not signal a shift in Moscow’s policy. Russia said it is not supporting Assad specifically but is backing the peace plan of Kofi Annan, the U.N. special envoy for Syria.

Moscow has lashed out at other governments for favoring “regime change” and aiding militant groups fighting the government in Syria.

On Thursday, the Kremlin insisted that Russia will not succumb to pressure on the issue.

“Russia’s position is well known, it is balanced, it is consistent and absolutely logical,” Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, told Interfax news agency. “This is why it is hardly correct to say that this position will be changing under somebody’s influence.”

Russia says it is determined to prevent any international intervention in Syria. Russians view previous Western-led interventions — like those in Libya and Iraq — as having toppled Russian allies in the name of overthrowing tyrants.

Despite the differences, U.S. officials said Thursday that they would continue to engage Russia on the issue in a effort to change Moscow’s policies.

“The Syrians are not going to listen to us,” Clinton said in Denmark. “They will listen maybe to the Russians. So we have to keep pushing them.”

In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama administration officials “have been working to overcome our differences with the Russians and others” on Syria.

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