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Plea to Putin over peace in Syria
An international group of statesmen, diplomats, aid agencies and business leaders has issued a plea to Russian president Vladimir Putin to use the opening of the Winter Olympics in Sochi to take steps to bring peace to Syria.
An open letter, published in the Financial Times and signed by figures including former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Virgin Group boss Sir Richard Branson, urges Mr Putin to make good on a February 6 call from the Russian foreign ministry for a global Olympic truce, particularly in Syria.
The signatories called on Mr Putin to "build on this welcome call and make his mark in history" by reiterating Russia's commitment to peace negotiations and leading efforts to agree a new UN Security Council resolution demanding humanitarian access and protection for civilians in Syria.
"As Vladimir Putin welcomes the world to Sochi, he has a moment in which to prove that the world's most ambitious Olympics will be used to secure a political legacy of which the Russian people and the rest of the world can be truly proud," said the letter.
"While Russia cannot make this happen alone, president Putin and his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, have shown that they are able to bring about difficult feats of negotiation such as the deal on chemical weapons orchestrated with the United States. A similar partnership could unlock the step-change the world wants to see in alleviating the suffering of the Syrian people."
Former foreign secretary David Miliband, whose aid agency International Rescue is backing the appeal, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The central role of Russia in this conflict in the Middle East means that, since they are holding a major international event and celebrating their place in the centre of the community of nations, it's a reasonable ask that as well as celebrating the good things about human endeavour and international unity we address the divisions currently pervading the international system.
"I think there's a substantive case to be made that the situation in Syria is not just destabilising for the whole of the Middle East, it's not just desperate for neighbouring countries that are dealing with millions of refugees, it's also making a mockery of the international system, because for the UN Security Council to come together and demand humanitarian access but then for nothing happen does make a mockery of the international system and is a grave threat to the kind of stability that all nations depend on and Russia prides itself by.
"This is a desperate situation that cannot rely on a snail's pace of agreements, this needs a big, big push. Because frankly at a time when the whole of the Middle East is being seized by the dangers posed by the dissolution of Syria, to stand aside and patiently wait for change really doesn't do a service to anyone."