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Syria Casts Shadow Over Putin's Trip To Germany, France

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) with his French counterpart Francois Hollande in Paris
Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Paris with his French counterpart Francois Hollande on June 1 and at a press conference the two leaders showed that, although they agree on the need for an end to hostilities in Syria, they disagree over the way to achieve it.

The two leaders' first meeting came just one week after the massacre in the Syrian town of Houla where 108 people, nearly half of them children, were killed.

The Houla killings widened the diplomatic rift between those countries condemning Syria's government for its often deadly crackdown on opposition since violence started in March 2011 and countries like China and Russia who oppose outside interference in Syria's internal affairs and what Beijing and Moscow see as international moves for regime change.

Hollande maintained that any solution to the Syrian crisis starts with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad stepping down from office.

"The regime of Bashar al-Assad has behaved in an unacceptable and intolerable manner and has committed acts which discredit it," he said. "No solution to this situation is possible without the departure of Bashar al-Assad."

Putin indicated that Russia is also concerned about any further deterioration of the situation in Syria.

"What worries us is, is the possibility of radicalization of the situation and that this situation gets out of control and results in the deaths of innocent civilians," he said.

The Russian president also suggested that forces opposing Assad's regime were equally responsible for killings in Syria.

"We are talking about the tragedy that happened recently in a village, where 14 or 15 people were killed, some were tortured," he said. "Everybody knows that. How many civilians have died at the hands of the other side, for example, at the hands of the so-called [opposition] fighters. Have you counted this loss? It also comes to hundreds of people."

Meeting With Merkel

Before meeting Hollande, Putin held talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin where the issue of Syria was also a major point at issue.

Merkel stressed the need for common action.

She pointed to the peace plan of former UN Secretary-General, currently the UN and Arab League envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, as a start but added that there could be a need to go further.

"We both made clear that we want a political solution; that the Annan plan can be a starting point, but that we must work with all our strength and energy, especially in the UN Security Council, on implementing this plan and, if necessary, on developing additional political actions," Merkel said.

And Putin sounded a note of unity in an approach toward finding a solution to the Syrian conflict.

"Russia, Germany, and our other partners will make every effort to prevent an escalation of violence [in Syria] and help Mr. Annan achieve positive results," he said.

Putin also maintained that Russia is not supporting any of the sides in the Syrian conflict.

"All those who claim that [Russia] supports any particular regime -- in this case President Assad's regime -- are wrong," he said. "We have had good relations with Syria for many years but we do not support either side."

The Russian president also said that, while his country is selling weapons to Syria, it "did not supply any arms [to Syria] that could be used in a civil conflict."

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, ITAR-TASS, and IFX Rus
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