‘Moscow talks’ seem to fail over al-Assad’s fate

‘Moscow talks’ seem to fail over al-Assad’s fate

‘Moscow talks’ seem to fail over al-Assad’s fate

Syrian soldiers who defected to join the Free Syrian Army are seen among demonstrators during a protest against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Idlib in this photo. REUTERS photo

Moscow is not going to try to persuade Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to resign, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said yesterday while dismissing the suggestion that Russia unconditionally supported the Syrian leader.

“Russian politics is not to ask someone to resign,” he told Australia’s ABC TV channel. “Regime change is not our profession,” the minister said. Lavrov also made it clear earlier yesterday that al-Assad’s continuing tenure as president was not a precondition for a settlement in Syria. “We are not President al-Assad’s friends or allies,” he said, Russia Today website reported. Lavrov’s comments came as the head of the opposition Syrian National Council Burhan Ghalioun said the opposition will hold talks with Syrian authorities in Moscow only if Russia accepts the departure of al-Assad. Russia had said Jan. 30 that Syrian authorities have agreed to a Russian offer to hold informal talks in Moscow with opposition representatives to resolve the crisis in the country.

UN resolution does not call for intervention
“If the Russian government agrees to our terms – al-Assad’s departure – then there would be no problem with holding prospective talks,” Ghalioun said in remarks published yesterday by the daily An-Nahar, Lebanese The Daily Star reported. As the exchange of words continues between Russia and the Syrian opposition, the U.N. Security Council braced for a showdown over Syria yesterday, with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leading a Western charge pressing Russia to back action to stop the violence. Clinton, the head of the Arab League and British and French foreign ministers headed to New York to push forward a U.N. resolution. A draft U.N. resolution seen by Agence France-Presse on Syria called for the regime to put an immediate stop to violence against protesters and for President Bashar al-Assad to hand power to his deputy. The text also stresses there will be no foreign military intervention.

Lavrov said yesterday that Russia would never let the Security Council approve military action in Syria. “If the [Syrian] opposition refuses to sit at the negotiating table with the regime, what is the alternative – to bomb? We’ve been through that before,” Itar-Tass news agency quoted him as telling a news conference. “The Security Council will never approve that, I guarantee you,” Lavrov said, Reuters reported. In response to international pressures, Damascus has slammed what it termed “aggressive” statements made by the United States and other Western nations.