Putin: Asylum for Assad in Russia not discussed
MOSCOW (AP) — Russian leader Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that Moscow isn't discussing granting political asylum to Syrian President Bashar Assad, shooting down rumors that such an offer is on the table as a way to end the Syrian regime's deadly crackdown on opposition protesters.
Russia has protected Assad from U.N. sanctions over the crackdown and accused the West of fueling the conflict by backing the Syrian opposition. The U.N. says more than 7,500 people have been killed since Syria's uprising began a year ago. Activists put the death toll at more than 8,000.
Putin, who is currently prime minister but regained the presidency in an election Sunday, said "we aren't even discussing the issue" of granting asylum to Assad.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will travel to New York to take part in Monday's ministerial meeting of the U.N. Security Council that will discuss Syria and other Mideast issues, the Foreign Ministry said.
Moscow insists it will block any U.N. resolution that could pave the way for a replay of what happened in Libya, where NATO action helped oust dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Putin has chided the West for refusing to demand that Assad's opponents pull out from besieged cities along with government troops.
The Foreign Ministry on Tuesday dismissed Western hopes for a shift in Moscow's stance on Syria after Putin's election victory as "wishful thinking." The ministry reaffirmed Wednesday that Russia remains firmly against any foreign military intervention in Syria.
"Any attempts by foreign players to enforce their models of settlement by supporting only one party to the conflict are unacceptable," it said in a statement.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul, meanwhile, reiterated his country's harsh criticism of Assad, warning that "those who are running Syria must make a choice now. The road they have taken is absoultely a dead-end street. It is dark and full of disappointment."
"That's why they have to give an ear to the efforts of the international community. As you know there are some formulas proposed. If they don't say yes to those today, it will be too late tomorrow," Gul said, without elaborating.
Late Tuesday, Spain said it has closed its embassy in Syria to protest the crackdown, a decision it said it made after consulting with fellow European Union members.
Spain said it will keep two diplomats in the EU delegation in Damascus to handle its interests. Spain recalled its ambassador to Syria last month.
Britain, Canada, France and the United States also have announced the closures of their embassies in Syria.