February 03, 2012

TVNZ: Russian aid to Pacific must be open: Rudd

Published: 10:09AM Wednesday February 01, 2012 Source: AAP

Australia's Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd has stressed to his Russian counterpart the need to be transparent with the development assistance it gives to Pacific island nations, amid ongoing concerns Moscow is using aid to buy diplomatic support in the region.

Rudd met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Sydney yesterday.

With Lavrov due to visit Fiji later this week, Russia's role in the South Pacific was high on Rudd's agenda.

Russia has been accused of giving vast sums of money to Pacific island nations like Tuvalu and Nauru in exchange for those countries recognising the sovereignty of the disputed territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which are officially part of Russia's enemy Georgia.

The claims last year prompted the Australian Government's Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Richard Marles, to accuse Russia of "cheque-book diplomacy" that could undermine efforts to eradicate poverty in the region.

There are also fears Russia's dealings with Fiji could set back the diplomatic campaign to coax the country's military regime to restore democracy.

Rudd stressed to Lavrov yesterday the importance of maintaining democratic norms in the region.

"They discussed the engagement many countries have with Fiji, and Rudd explained Australia's engagement, which includes substantial development assistance," a summary of the meeting provided by Rudd's office said.

"He stressed the importance of transparency in development assistance with the region."

The pair also discussed the worsening bloodshed in Syria.

Australia and other Western governments want the United Nations Security Council to pass a resolution adopting an Arab League peace plan that calls on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to resign and hand power to his deputy.

But Russia has signalled it will use its permanent member veto powers to sink the resolution and has offered a softer alternative resolution.

"Mr Lavrov explained the Russian approach to the issue, reflected in its draft resolution before the Security Council," the summary reads.

"Mr Rudd explained that Australia supported the resolution presented by the Arab League which contains elements in common with the Russian draft and calls for measures to be implemented against the Syrian regime, and for Assad to hand over power to his deputy."

An estimated 5400 Syrians have been killed since anti-government unrest broke out in March last year.

In October, Rudd took aim at Russia and China for using their veto powers to block a resolution demanding Assad's regime end its crackdown on anti-government rebels.

"China and Russia must now bear a particular responsibility for persuading Syria to end the violence and implement meaningful change," he said at the time.

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