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China, Russia undecided on Arab plan for Syria

By Eunice Yoon, CNN
updated 11:12 AM EST, Mon February 13, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • China declines to say whether it would support the Arab League initiative
  • Russia says it is still examining the plan
  • The proposal would establish a joint U.N.-Arab peacekeeping force
  • China and Russia have vetoed previous U.N. attempts to stop the violence

Beijing (CNN) -- China and Russia declined to say Monday whether they would support an Arab League initiative calling for the U.N. Security Council to back a joint U.N.-Arab peacekeeping force for Syria.

The proposed joint mission, which would replace a now-defunct Arab League observer team, is the latest international attempt to pressure Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down and end violence that has left thousands dead, according to U.N. figures.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said in a daily briefing of reporters that Beijing supports the league's mediation in Syria, but he stopped short of answering questions on whether China would approve the proposal.

"China calls for and supports the Arab League's continued efforts at political mediation, which plays a proactive and constructive role with regard to peaceful settlement of the Syrian issue," Liu said.

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Monday his country is still studying the initiative, but it had concerns about imposing peace without Syria's consent.

China and Russia have drawn heavy criticism from the West and the Arab world for vetoing a draft U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Syria over its 11-month crackdown on its citizens.

Based on China's long-standing policy of non-interference in other countries' domestic affairs, it would be "very hard" for China to back a joint mission, said He Wenping, director of African Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

She said there are concerns the force would play a military role and any armed involvement would "need more discussion."

The Arab League initiative does not mention whether the peacekeepers would include armed troops or whether offers by the pan-Arab body of assistance to the opposition would include weapons.

Syria has rejected the Arab League proposals.

At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Liu reiterated China's position that Syrian authorities and opposition forces should "solve their disputes through dialogue."

China critics say Beijing fears that condoning a resolution that could lead to regime change might one day threaten its own rule.

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