The situation in Syria resembles Bosnia in the 1990s, Foreign Secretary William Hague said, as he warned time was running out to stop the killings in the country.
Mr Hague said it was now up to Russia to use its leverage with president Bashar Assad’s regime to bring an end to the violence in Syria.
He said the continued political and trade isolation of Syria was the second best option. What was needed was a united way forward, he added.
Asked whether the UK government had ruled out military intervention, Mr Hague said: “I think we don’t know how things are going to develop. Syria is, as I said in the past couple of weeks, on the edge of a collapse or of a sectarian civil war so I don’t think we can rule anything out.
“But it is not so much like Libya last year, where of course we had a successful intervention to save lives.
“It is looking more like Bosnia in the 1990s, being on the edge of a sectarian conflict in which neighbouring villages are attacking and killing each other, so I don’t think we can rule anything out. But it does mean… there is an increasing commonality of analysis with Russia. The Russians are concerned about that scenario.”
He said the UK and Russia agreed that president Assad did not have to be in charge in Syria, but a way forward could not be found while the violence continued. Russia now had to use its “leverage” to ensure the Syrian regime ended the violence, he added.
Mr Hague said he “welcomed in principle” the Russian proposal for an international conference on Syria, but warned it must “lead to a change and not just buy time for the regime to kill more people”. He added that the way forward was to adopt the peace plan of former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan.
But he said it would be hard to see how Iran could attend the conference, which is one of the demands of Russia, as it had already given Syria technical support and advised the regime how to suppress protests.
The British government has already provided £8.5 million towards helping alleviate the “appalling” humanitarian situation, he said.
Mr Hague added: “Of course, we will keep talking to the Russians about how we can do this. International unity, behind an actual plan of action for transition in Syria, is, as I say, the only way to bring the killings to an end. Every other solution to the Syrian crisis involves a lot more death.
“If we had international agreement insisting on the Annan plan being implemented then there would access to the whole of Syria for monitors who are currently being shot at by supporters of the regime, to monitor the ceasefire, armed forces would be pulled back from populated areas in Syria, a political process in which Syrians can decide their own future can begin and there would be access to the whole country for aid agencies.”
Meanwhile, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, yesterday led a chorus of officials expressing outrage over the bloodshed in Syria.