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EU set to pressure Russia on Syria at summit

05 june 2012, 10:08
Russian President Vladimir Putin. ©RIA NOVOSTI
Russian President Vladimir Putin. ©RIA NOVOSTI
President Vladimir Putin met European Union leaders Monday for summit talks where the EU is expected to put pressure on Russia to harden its position on the Syria and Iran crises, AFP reports.

Putin on Sunday evening met EU President Herman Van Rompuy and the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, for an informal dinner in the northwestern city of Saint Petersburg.

Official talks at the 29th Russia-EU summit began Monday at the Konstantinovsky Palace in the suburbs of the city, and the three leaders were due to hold a news conference at 12:40 pm (0840 GMT).

Barroso and Van Rompuy will press Putin for any hints of a softening on the Syrian crisis following his return to the Kremlin for a third term, as well as the international standoff over the Iranian nuclear programme.

However, the ex-KGB agent stuck firmly to his refusal to back further action against Soviet-era ally Syria during a Friday swing through Berlin and Paris, and Moscow signalled clearly Sunday that it was still in no mood to compromise.

The foreign ministry said that the only way out of the crisis involved a cessation of violence and support for the peace plan of UN-Arab League mediator Kofi Annan.

"Russia will continue supporting this position and calls on other states to do the same," it said.

Pressure on Russia to concede that no peace talks were emerging and to promote a Syrian compromise in which President Bashar al-Assad cedes power to his inner circle has been building on an almost daily basis.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Sunday that she "made it very clear" to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in a phone call at the weekend that the focus was shifting to a political transition in Syria rather than talks with Assad's regime.

"Assad's departure does not have to be a precondition but it should be an outcome, so the people of Syria have a chance to express themselves," Clinton told reporters during a visit to Stockholm.

The Kremlin has criticised the European Union sharply for imposing an oil embargo on Iran over its nuclear programme and argued that unilateral sanctions only diminish the chances of compromise from Tehran.

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