U.S., Arab states press Russia on Syria

Laura Rozen
The Envoy

A top American Middle East diplomat visited Moscow Tuesday as part of an international effort to get Russia to support a UN Security Council resolution demanding an end to the violence in Syria, which has killed well over 5,000 people since last spring.

Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Jeff Feltman was in Moscow as part of an increasingly frantic international effort to intervene in the troubled Middle Eastern country, American officials said.

"Issue number one on [Feltman's] agenda there is Syria and our interest in being able to move forward in the UN Security Council and talking about how the situation looks after the Arab League report over the weekend," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told journalists at a press briefing Monday.

Feltman's trip came as five Persian Gulf states on Tuesday joined Saudi Arabia in announcing they are withdrawing from a month-old Arab League monitoring mission to Syria because of the observers' inability to curb Bashar al-Assad's brutal crackdown, and instead are turning their hopes for intervention to the United Nations.

"The Syrian regime did not implement the Arab plan under existing Arab pressure, so there was no other way except to approach the Security Council," one Arab League ambassador told Reuters, speaking anonymously to explain the decision to withdraw some 55 members of the 165-member Arab League team.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was also due to fly to Moscow Wednesday to urge Russia not to veto a UN Security Council Syria resolution, Turkey's Today Zaman reported Mahir Zeynalov reported.

American officials are also expected to ask Moscow about media reports that it has inked a deal to sell combat jets to the Assad regime, the State Department said.

"Obviously, if [the media reports are] accurate, it would be quite concerning," Nuland said Tuesday. "But as we've been saying for months, our firm belief is that any country that is still trading in weapons and armaments with Syria really needs to think twice, because they are on the wrong side of history and those weapons can be used against innocents, and have been."

Over the weekend, the State Department said it is considering closing the U.S. embassy in Syria due to continued security concerns, but it had not yet decided whether to do so. On Monday, it again issued a warning urging American citizens to leave Syria.

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