BEIRUT: Washington reached out to Syria’s most important ally and protector Saturday, urging Russia to join a coordinated effort to resolve the deadly conflict as the violence spilled across the border into Lebanon, a senior State Department official said.
The international community has been frustrated by the failure of a U.N.-brokered peace plan to stop the bloodshed. Fears also have risen that the violence could spread beyond Syria’s border.
Already clashes have broken out between pro- and anti-Syrian groups in northern Lebanon, with at least eight people killed late Friday and early Saturday, Lebanese security officials said.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton discussed the situation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in a telephone call Saturday, a senior State Department official said.
“They both agreed that we have to work together,” said the official, who provided details of the private discussion on condition of anonymity. “Her message to him was that we have to start working together to help Syrians with a serious political transition strategy.”
Clinton said U.S. and Russian officials should engage diplomatically to come up with ideas in Moscow, Washington, New York and “wherever we need to,” according to the official.
Russia has refused to support any move that could lead to foreign intervention in Syria, Moscow’s last significant ally in the Middle East. Russia, along with China, has twice used its veto power to shield Syria from U.N. sanctions.
Moscow’s pro-Syria stance is motivated in part by its strategic and defense ties to Damascus, including weapons sales. Russia also rejects what it sees as a world order dominated by the United States.
The fighting in Lebanon’s northern city of Tripoli started shortly before midnight Friday and intensified Saturday.
Repeated outbreaks of violence in the city, the country’s second largest, are seen as spillover from the conflict in neighboring Syria. Lebanon and Syria share a complex web of political and sectarian ties and rivalries, which are easily inflamed. Clashes in Tripoli last month killed at least eight people.
The fighting in Lebanon pits Sunni Muslims who support Syrian rebels trying to oust President Bashar Assad against members of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam of which Assad is a member.