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22 May 2024

Russia says 'open to dialogue' on Syria


Russia said Wednesday it was "open to constructive proposals" on Syria but remained opposed to any UN resolution that tried to force all nations to respect sanctions previously imposed by the West.

"We are open to constructive proposals that go in line with the set task of ending violence," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said following talks with his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu.

His comments came as Russian and US officials held talks in Moscow on ways to stop nearly 10 months of violence in Syria that the United Nations estimates has killed more than 5,400 people.

Lavrov said there was no need to draft new resolutions on Syria because Russia was ready to amend its previous draft that blames both the Syrian government and the opposition for the use of force.

But he insisted that Russia would not back UN action granting the global body's approval to economic sanctions that the European Union and the United States have already adopted against Moscow's traditional ally.

"We will not be able to back proposals under which unilaterally imposed sanctions against Syria -- sanctions that were declared without any consultations with Russia or China ... are blessed retroactively," said Lavrov.

"This is simply unfair and counterproductive."

Any resolution backed by Russia "must firmly record that it cannot be used or interpreted to justify anyone's outside military intervention in the Syria crisis," he added.

Russia and China both blocked a previous Western attempt to have the UN Security Council formally condemn Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's crackdown and impose stiff sanctions if he refuses to enter direct talks.

Moscow has since further angered the West by continuing to sell arms to its Soviet-era ally and recently striking a new deal to supply small fighter jets to Assad's regime.

But US officials have voiced optimism that new meetings with Russian officials held at both the UN headquarters in New York and in Moscow will eventually lead to a compromise.

The US embassy said US Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman and Special Coordinator Fred Hof held meetings in Moscow on Wednesday "with a particular focus on recent events in Syria.

"We agreed today to continue close US-Russian coordination on Syria in the weeks ahead."

Lavrov for his part said Russia was open to the idea of hosting direct talks between the opposition and Assad's government.

"We will welcome any choice (of venue) suiting all sides. If the opposition does not want to travel to Damascus, then this could be Cairo ... Turkey or the territory of the Russian Federation," he said.

Syria has already rejected a weekend call from the Arab League for Assad to hand power to his deputy and clear the way for a unity government within two months.

Damascus said that Assad continued to receive Moscow's backing and Lavrov steered clear of any mention of the Arab League's call for Assad to step down.

Turkey however has been pressing for stronger international involvement in the crisis and said it may work with the United Nations to help quell a potential humanitarian crisis in Syria

"Today, we once again want to tell the Syrian leadership that it must halt the killing of peaceful civilians, and that it must enter negotiations," the Turkish foreign minister said following his talks with Lavrov.

"Turkey has always believed that if people demand changes and want improvements in their lives, their demands should be supported," Davutoglu said.