Chinese, Syrian foreign ministers meet in Beijing

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Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said Wednesday that his country was observing the cease-fire plan laid out by special envoy Kofi Annan, despite the regime's continued assaults on rebel-held areas.

In a meeting in Beijing with his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, Moallem said the Syrian government would "honor and implement" its commitment to withdraw the army from cities and would cooperate with United Nations observers arriving in the country.

Syria will "continue to cooperate with special envoy Annan's efforts at mediation," Moallem was quoted as saying in a statement issued by China's Foreign Ministry.

In brief comments later outside the Syrian Embassy, Moallem said Syrian and Chinese positions on the way forward were "very close together."

Since a truce formally took effect Thursday, Syria has violated key provisions. Tanks, troops and widely feared plainclothes security agents continue to patrol the streets to deter anti-regime protests, while the regime resumed its assault on rebellious Homs, Syria's third-largest city, over the weekend, after only a brief lull.

Moallem's visit is the latest show of Chinese support for Damascus despite Beijing's tentative engagement with Syria's opposition.

China, along with fellow U.N. Security Council member Russia, has shielded Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime from U.N. sanctions over its deadly crackdown on a popular uprising, although it has supported Annan's plan aimed at ending the violence and beginning talks on Syria's political future.

The Foreign Ministry statement quoted Yang as saying China welcomed the "initial implementation" of the agreement and hoped Syria would fully carry out its pledge to cease fire and withdraw forces.

Damascus should then "sincerely embark on a process of inclusive political dialogue and reform to bring about a just, peaceful, and appropriate resolution to the Syrian question," Yang said.

As with recent comments by Russian officials, Yang's remarks were more pointed and direct than in the past, an indication that Beijing is looking for progress toward a reduction of violence that might dilute some of the criticism Beijing has come under for blocking U.N. action on Syria.

Separately, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said Vice Premier Li Keqiang would visit Russia later this month, with Syria likely to be on the agenda.

The U.N. insists the fragile truce is holding, even though regime forces have been hammering Homs with artillery for days.

China has sent envoys to meet with various parties in the conflict and says it plans to host opposition figures soon.

Despite the continuing violence, the plan put forward by Annan, the joint U.N.-Arab League emissary, is the only one a deadlocked international community could rally behind and is seen as the only practical way forward. China and Syria's other allies back the initiative because, unlike an Arab League plan earlier this year, it does not require Assad to step down ahead of transition talks.

China, sensitive to anti-government unrest in minority areas in Xinjiang and Tibet, is habitually opposed to such outside intervention.


Associated Press writer David Wivell contributed to this report.