Cameron makes joint call with Nicolas Sarkozy as Vladimir Putin signals Russia’s increasing distance from the Assad regime
Britain and France on Friday sought to step up the pressure on the Syrian regime by demanding that President Bashar al-Assad and his officials face an international war crimes trial.
The move came as the last remaining international support for Assad appeared to be melting away as Russia’s prime minister, Vladimir Putin, said his country did not enjoy a special relationship with Damascus and his foreign ministry said it would not protect the regime from a military intervention.
At the end of an EU summit in Brussels, David Cameron said that the Syrian leadership was responsible for scenes of “medieval barbarity”, while the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, blamed Assad for the murder of hundreds of children.
“The Assad regime is butchering its own people. The history of Homs is being written in the blood of its citizens,” Cameron said.
“We should do more to make sure that those who are responsible for atrocities are held to account. We need to document their crimes. It needs to be written down. We need to make sure that the evidence is there. Britain is doing its part in doing that.
“We will make sure … that there is a day of reckoning for those who are responsible. I have a clear message for those in authority in Syria: make a choice, turn your back on this criminal regime or face justice for the blood that is on your hands.”
Senior diplomats said that the calls to gather material that could be supplied to the international criminal court in The Hague for a war crimes trial were a calculated Anglo-French attempt to step up the political pressure on the Syrian regime.
Cameron’s calls were echoed by Sarkozy, who confirmed that France was closing its embassy in Damascus. “Dictators anywhere in the world should know that they will have to account for their crimes,” he said. “Those who have committed crimes should be brought to trial.”
Sarkozy added that there would need to be a UN security council resolution before there could be any moves towards establishing humanitarian corridors in Syria, or decisions to supply arms to the Syrian opposition.
Putin accused the west of fuelling the conflict, but in a marked change in Moscow’s position the foreign ministry spokesman, Alexander Lukashevich, said that Russia would not provide any kind of military assistance to Syria in the event of a foreign intervention.
The remarks followed Russia’s earlier decision – with China – to back a new security council resolution expressing “deep disappointment” at Syria’s failure to admit UN humanitarian aid chief Valerie Amos after the two countries vetoed a previous security council resolution on the crisis.
Putin signalled his increasing distance from Assad in an interview with a group of European editors. He said: “It is up to the Syrians to decide who should run their country … We need to make sure they stop killing each other.”
The apparent shift in the Russian and Chinese positions came as the Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, predicted that both Russia and Iran would soon realise they had little choice but to join international diplomatic efforts to remove Assad.
“I think in time Russia will see its support has been abused by the Syrian regime. They will recognise this fact when they see the heavy weapons being used against the people in Syria. That is not very tolerable, not even for Russia,” he said.
from Ian Traynor, Peter Beaumont