France says Assad must end violence first
PARIS (Reuters) - France insisted on Friday that any United Nations Security Council resolution on Syria must go beyond calling for a truce and push for a political transition, with President Bashar al-Assad taking unilateral steps to stop the violence.
Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said in an interview in Le Monde newspaper these were "red lines" for France and he saw "a slight evolution" in the position of Russia, the most outspoken opponent of demands for regime change in Syria.
Russia has called for both government and opposition forces to agree a ceasefire and insisted there must be no precondition to a political dialogue, such as Assad's exit from power.
"I have two red lines. I cannot accept that we put the oppressors and victims in the same boat. The regime must initiate the cessation of hostilities," Juppe told Le Monde.
"The second red line: we cannot be satisfied with just a humanitarian and ceasefire resolution. There must be a reference to a political settlement based on the Arab League proposal."
U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, who visited Assad in Syria, was to brief the U.N. Security Council via video link later on Friday.
Council diplomats say his assessment of the crisis will be crucial to an effort by the United States and Europe to pass a resolution that would ensure humanitarian aid workers access to besieged towns across the country.
"It's a nightmare. This regime has become mad. We back Kofi Annan to implement his mission, but we will not be fooled by the Syrians' manipulation," Juppe said.
"The Arab League plan does not foresee Bashar al-Ashad's departure. It would sideline him and, more exactly, designate his vice president to negotiate and start a transition. That is really the minimum."
China is also trying to break the impasse. Beijing is keen to counter accusations from Western and Arab leaders that it, along with Russia, abetted violence by Assad's forces against civilians by vetoing two UN resolutions on the crisis.
Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Zhang Ming was dispatched to Paris this week and met senior officials from the Foreign Ministry and President Nicolas Sarkozy's top diplomatic adviser.
A source said, however, China's stance had not shifted and it continued to put the regime and opposition on an equal footing.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said Paris had made its position clear and asked Beijing to pressure Assad.
"We highlighted China's attachment to the stability of the region and the backing which it has given to the Arab League which as a result should lead (China) to supporting in full the Arab transition plan," Valero said.
Speaking to reporters at a rally in Paris gathering 2,000 people to mark the one-year anniversary of the uprisings in Syria, Syrian National Council chief Burhan Ghalioun said the international community had talked enough and now needed to act.
"They have an obligation to help a people that is being murdered," said Ghalioun, who is permanently based in Paris.
"We are talking about no-fly zones, humanitarian corridors and an international intervention to break ... this murderous regime."
However, in the Le Monde article, Juppe reiterated that "for the moment" military intervention was not an option, especially without a U.N. mandate, and Paris opposed arming the rebels.
"Delivering weapons would push Syria into a civil war that risks being terrible because we can see the determination of the various communities," he said.
"I am saddened to see the Christian, Catholic and Orthodox hierarchies continue to side with Assad."
(Reporting By John Irish; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Sophie Hares)
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