Russia calls for new Syria talks
MOSCOW - Agence France- Presse
AFP PhotoRussia said Tuesday it wanted to host a new meeting of foreign powers concerning the Syria crisis but stressed that the talks should not decide the fate of President Bashar al-Assad.
Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said the attempt made in Geneva on June 30 to save international envoy Kofi Annan's tattered peace plan for the crisis needed to be continued with the involvement countries such as Iran.
"We would welcome organising another Action Group meeting in Moscow. But we would also not be opposed to Geneva if special representative (Annan) and group participants find this more appropriate," he told the Interfax news agency.
Bogdanov added that the talks would benefit from the presence of such Syrian allies as Iran -- strongly opposed by both Washington and European powers -- as well opposition group supporters Saudi Arabia and other regional states.
The Geneva talks ended with a broad consensus on the need for a transition of power in Syria but disagreement over Assad's fate.
Russia stressed that the final text made no mention of the strongman's future while US Secretary of States Hillary Clinton argued that his ouster was implicit because the plan excluded those with "blood on their hands".
Bogdanov said Russia was not "holding on to Assad" but defending basic international principles that prevented powerful nations from deciding the internal conflicts of smaller states.
"The fate of a particular leader should be decided by the people in accordance with international legislation," said Bogdanov.
Moscow has made efforts to silence Western and Arab world criticism of its decision to veto two rounds sanctions against its Soviet-era ally by hosting two high-profile opposition leaders this week.
Abdel Basset Sayda of the Syrian National Council -- an umbrella group that has been sharply critical of Russia before -- said he would demand during Wednesday's visit that Russia halt all arms deliveries to Assad.
But Bogdanov said such sales began in the 1950s and now make up an important part of Russia's contacts with Syria are both binding and legitimate.
The sales "are meant to only strengthen the defence capabilities of Syria, which under any government has the right to look after its sovereignty." A top official in Russia's main arms export agency on Monday said Moscow would not be delivering new types of weapons to Syria while violence there continues but keeping to the terms of existing contracts.