06/12/2012 04:02 EDT | Updated 08/12/2012 05:12 EDT

Canada pushes Russia to help end violence in Syria, coax Assad from power

OTTAWA - Canada is pushing Russia to do more to end the killing in blood-soaked Syria, including raising the subject during a major trade mission to the country.

And just like the United States, which is leading the international lobbying of Syria's good friend and arms supplier, Canada's entreaties are being rebuffed by the Russians.

In an unusual mingling of trade and human rights, International Trade Minister Ed Fast raised Syria as he led a five-day junket to Russia last week with nearly 30 Canadian companies in tow.

Fast pressed the case for Russia to help in the peaceful, negotiated removal of President Bashar Assad.

Fast raised Syria with Andrey Denisov, Russia's first deputy minister of foreign affairs, but the overture was met with resistance, officials said.

"We've been engaging Russia at every opportunity, and I think it's safe to say we believe that Russia needs to be a part of the solution," said a senior government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird is also planning a telephone call to his counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, officials say, following his meeting last week with Russia's veteran envoy to Canada, Georgiy Mamedov.

An official stressed Canada does not support any military intervention in Syria.

Denisov told Fast that the U.S.-led effort to replace Assad could worsen problems in Syria, another unnamed official said.

Denisov said Assad and his family control virtually every aspect of the Syrian government, and if they leave, chaos would ensue, including the possible rise of Islamic rulers in the country, the official continued.

Fast was told that the West's position that Assad must go — one Baird has often stated — is too simplistic.

The United States has been leading a diplomatic push on Russia to help broker the peaceful removal of Assad as Syria's leader, in much the same way as Yemen's strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh was prodded from power in recent months.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Tuesday that the Syrian conflict could escalate dramatically because Russia is sending attack helicopters to Syria for use by the Assad regime.

Clinton said she was concerned about the development, which she revealed during a public event in Washington.

Baird said in a statement Tuesday that the Assad regime's use of helicopters to attack civilians and its reported plans for further massacres "demonstrates yet again that it places no value on human life. Rather than fulfil his promise to stop the violence, Assad seems determined to slaughter innocent Syrians in a desperate attempt to cling to power."

As for Fast's recent intervention, it was done quietly, and did not appear to disrupt the upbeat tone of the trade mission, which his office has publicly promoted as a successful attempt to deepen trade ties with one of the so-called BRIC countries — Brazil, Russia, India and China.

Russia is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, and has opposed any use of force to remove Assad, or any resolutions on sanctions.

The UN says at least 9,000 people have been killed since the start of the uprising against Assad's rule. Activist groups say 13,000 have been killed.

Canada's entreaties to Russia come as the UN special envoy for Syria, former secretary general Kofi Annan, asked countries to "twist arms" among Syria's most influential friends — a clear reference to Russia and China.

Annan offered up a six-point peace plan earlier this year, which includes a cease-fire, but that has been largely ignored as fighting continues to escalate between government troops and opposition forces.

Spokesman Ahmad Fawzi told reporters that Annan "has invited governments with influence to raise the bar to another level, to the highest level possible, and twist arms if necessary, to get the parties to implement the plan."

Baird spoke with Annan by telephone on Saturday and affirmed Canada's support for the six-point plan.

"Minister Baird signalled Canada's openness to a 'path to reform' in which power is transferred away from Assad, and democratic change is undertaken," Baird's spokesman Rick Roth said in describing the call.

"Canada supports the growing consensus that a small group of countries, able and willing to affect positive, meaningful change in Syria, may be best placed to deliver a breakthrough."