CAIRO - Agence France-Press
Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr (R) and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) address a joint news conference after their meeting in Cairo, Egypt, 05 November 2012. EPA photo
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday accused countries which support Syrian rebels of encouraging them to fight rather than pressuring them to negotiate an end to Syria's civil war.
Russia, one of the Syrian regime's most influential foreign allies, held no sway over the rebels, Lavrov said at a news conference in Cairo with his Egyptian counterpart Mohammed Kamel Amr.
Countries which do have influence over the rebels, among them some Gulf Arab states and Western powers such as the United States, should encourage the rebels to "sit at the negotiations table," Lavrov said.
Instead, "some" of these countries prefer to "unify the rebels not on the basis of negotiations but on the basis of continuing the fighting," he said, according to an Arabic translator at the press conference.
In an interview with an Egyptian newspaper published Monday, Lavrov insisted that Russia
was supplying Syria with air defence capabilities in accordance with international laws.
But he warned in the interview with the official Al-Ahram newspaper that countries aiding Syria's rebels risked arming Al-Qaeda.
Russian military aid to Syria "aims at supporting Syria's defence capabilities in the face of external political threat, and not to back (Syrian President) Bashar al-Assad," he said.
The contracts for the equipment, signed under the Soviet Union, were nearing their expiry, he added.
International law forbids arming rebels who aim to violently overthrow a state, he said, adding that "foreign partners are supplying the armed opposition with all types of aid.
"Al-Qaeda is also fighting in Syria. This impels the West to consider the possibilities that what it is illegally sending to Syria might fall into the wrong hands." Lavrov said international peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, whom he met on Sunday, would have stood a greater "chance of success" had all countries pressured both the government and rebels to stop fighting.
After a meeting between Lavrov, Brahimi and Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi in Cairo, Arabi candidly told reporters they had not agreed on "anything." More than 36,000 people have been killed in Syria since conflict began in March last year, according to the Britain-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov flew to Cairo on Sunday as he kicked off a flurry of diplomatic activity focusing on the 19-month-old conflict in ally Syria.
After arriving, Lavrov was seen heading straight into talks over dinner with both Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi and Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN and Arab League peace envoy for Syria, an AFP correspondent reported.
Russia's foreign ministry confirmed Lavrov was travelling to Egypt and Jordan.