Russia's Lavrov meets Assad envoys, urges cooperation
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged a visiting Syrian regime delegation on Tuesday to provide urgent humanitarian assistance to the multitude of civilians left without subsistence by war.
Lavrov met Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad for talks aimed at preparing Russia's main Middle East ally for a peace conference in Geneva that world diplomats hope to convene mid-December.
Muqdad and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's adviser Buthaina Shaaban also met in Moscow with a top team from Iran -- the Damascus regime's most important regional backer that Russia want to see represented at the so-called Geneva II talks.
Lavrov told Muqdad at the start of their meeting that international humanitarian aid groups have asked Moscow to pressure Damascus into providing better access to stranded civilians.
"We call on you to do more to assist in the quickest-possible provision of humanitarian assistance to the needy, without bureaucratic procedures," Russian news agencies quoted Lavrov as saying.
The 32-month conflict has claimed more than 120,000 lives and seen an estimated 2.2 million Syrians flee their homeland.
The fighting is also believed to have displaced millions of people and left masses in dire need of medical care.
Russia has prided itself for being able to win the Assad regime's assurance that it will attend the Geneva conference and has blamed the West for failing to secure a similar guarantee from the badly divided opposition.
Muqdad confirmed on Tuesday that Assad's envoys would travel to Geneva as long as the talks' main focus was not on the current regime's ouster but on ways of stopping the war.
"We completely agree with your assessment about preparations for Geneva," Muqdad told Lavrov. "They should be conducted without preconditions."
Lavrov said entering the talks with Muqdad that he saw signs of "more realism" from the Syrian National Coalition opposition umbrella group about the Geneva meeting.
The Coalition has previously said it will only attend Geneva II if the conference assured Assad's immediate removal from power.
Russia's top diplomat added that National Coalition leader Ahmed Jarba would probably arrive in Moscow for negotiations once Assad's delegation departs.
The timing is a blow to Lavrov's hopes of setting up direct talks between the two sides in Russia -- a meeting that would have highlighted Moscow's growing role as peacemaker in the conflict.
The Syrian team also won an assurance from Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on Tuesday of Tehran's continued support for the regime.
"Our support for Syria, which is facing a revolt, will continue," Interfax quoted the Iranian diplomat as saying.
"We will continue providing our support in the strongest manner possible."
© 2013 AFP