The United States hopes that Russia has been doing its best to persuade Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to stop violence against protesters, U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner has said.
“You know, we're hopeful that the Russians are delivering the sternest possible message to Assad and his regime and are at least using that leverage, the leverage that they have, to make him aware that the international community is increasingly speaking with one voice against what he's doing,” Toner said during a daily press briefing in Washington on Wednesday.
As the death toll from the 11-month uprising against Assad’s authoritarian rule has skyrocketed in the past two months, surpassing 5,400 according to UN estimates, the United States and its Western allies have increased pressure on Russia to drop its support for the Assad regime.
Earlier this month, Russia and China, both permanent UN Security Council members, vetoed a UN draft resolution condemning the Syrian regime and calling on Assad to step down. Protesting against what they call Western attempts in interfere in Syria’s domestic affairs, Moscow and Beijing have insisting that both the regime and armed opposition groups fighting against the government are to blame for the bloodshed.
While local human rights groups point to soaring numbers of civilian deaths as a result of Syrian army operations against protesters, the country’s authorities say more than 2,000 security and military officers have been killed by members of “armed terrorist gangs” which they say are directed from abroad.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad discussed the situation in Syria in a telephone conversation on Wednesday. The presidents “urged the resolution of the current crisis by Syrian people using only peaceful means and without any foreign interference” and “agreed that the main goal today…is to prevent a civil war in the country, which may destabilize the situation in the whole region,” the Kremlin said in a statement.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Syria earlier this month for talks with Assad. Moscow has also proposed hosting talks between the Syrian government and the opposition aimed at resolving the crisis.