Top Syria diplomat consults Russia on conflict
A Syrian government delegation led by Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad held talks at the Russian foreign ministry Thursday as Moscow denied the existence of a joint plan with the United States to end the crisis in the country.
Muqdad met Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who told the Syrian diplomat of the need to immediately halt the violence in Syria, the foreign ministry said.
"The Russian side emphasised the lack of an alternative to a peaceful solution to the conflict," the ministry said in a statement.
There must be a "halt to the violence, bloodshed and suffering of the Syrian people", the statement stressed.
The meeting came amid a flurry of end-of-year diplomacy in Russia that will also see talks between UN-Arab League Syria peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and Lavrov on Saturday.
Brahmi on Thursday called for "real change" in Syria and the quick introduction of a transition government "with all powers".
But the Syrian opposition swiftly retorted that such an interim team could not include President Bashar al-Assad or his top lieutenants.
Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said the talks with Brahimi would be "directed at ending the violence and launching a national dialogue in the country between the authorities and the opposition".
The foreign ministry said Muqdad also informed Moscow about the regime's latest contacts with Brahimi, who held talks in Damascus for several days before his arrival in Russia.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Amr is also coming to Moscow later on Thursday for a visit that will include talks and a news conference with Lavrov on Friday.
Russia has to the fury of the West refused to cut cooperation with the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad in a conflict that according to activists has claimed more than 45,000 lives.
The diplomatic drive comes amid Western media reports of a new Russia-US initiative that would see Assad stay in power until 2014 while preventing him from further renewing his mandate.
But Lukashevich vehemently denied the existence of any such plan.
"There was not and is not such a plan and it is not being discussed," he said, adding that Russia's Syria policy was still based on an accord with world powers made in Geneva back in June for an inter-Syrian dialogue.
Russia has always insisted it will not prop up Assad's regime but has also emphasised Moscow will not seek to persuade the Syrian president to step down, saying it is up to the Syrian people to decide the country's future.
Lukashevich said the United States and other powers who agreed the Geneva accord had "turned their position 180 degrees" by supporting the opposition and holding no dialogue with the government.
This set "the opposition not on dialogue with the authorities but on overthrowing the regime", he said. "We will not ever agree with this."
Lukashevich recalled that the Geneva agreement had contained no demand for Assad to leave power and warned that striving for his removal risked causing more bloodshed.
"To make the exit of an elected president the cornerstone of any dialogue is a violation of all agreements reached at ministerial level.
"If the goal is to get the president's head that means a continuation of the bloodshed and an colossal responsibility on those who strive for such goals," he added.
© 2012 AFP