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4 May, 2013 12:15

Russia open to talks with all Syrian opposition members – Lavrov

Russia open to talks with all Syrian opposition members – Lavrov

In an effort to broker a peaceful solution to the Syrian conflict, Moscow says unlike the West it’s committed to negotiating with all sides. Russia strongly opposes arming the rebels, with the foreign minister calling for ‘direct talks’.

“We’re open for talks with all Syrian opposition members, but I think a way to stop the violence won't be found in Moscow or any other foreign capital, only in direct talks between the opposition and the Syrian government,” Sergey Lavrov said on Friday.

“Arming non-governmental players violates international law. It's not the time to pour oil on the fire of the Syrian conflict. For all outside players it’s time to push all parties – the Syrian government and various opposition groups, political and military - and force them to announce a ceasefire and sit down for talks. Arming the Syrian rebels is betting on a military solution and not a political settlement,” he added.

Earlier this week, during his visit to Hungary, Lavrov said that although Russia’s and America’s stances regarding the Syrian problem play an important role, not everything depends on the two countries.

“It’s important that all [other] outer players without any exception work on the accomplishment of the agreements reached in Geneva,” Lavrov stated on Thursday. “First and foremost, I’m referring to the refusal of the preliminary conditions and contrived pretexts for dragging direct negotiations between Syrian and the opposition,” he said.

Moscow adheres to the Geneva Communique which was adopted by the Action Group for Syria in June to ensure a better solution to the Syrian crisis. Agreed by a number of states, including Russia and the United States, it calls for both sides of the conflict to honor a ceasefire and enter into negotiations.

However, Russia doesn’t support Washington's plan of Assad stepping down being the key step towards peace in the war-torn country.

“There's a difference of opinion between Russia and the United States with respect to when or how Assad might leave. I don't think there's a difference of opinion that his leaving may either be inevitable or necessary to be able to have a solution,” the US Secretary of State John Kerry said at the meeting in NATO headquarters in Brussels.

AFP Photo / Zac Baillie

Meanwhile, Russia has accused Western nations of blocking a series of peace efforts, warning that if the status quo continues, Syria comes to grips with a radical Islamist threat.

“Over the last months, there is a growing understanding of real threats we will all face if this status quo maintains, if all efforts to build dialogue will be hindered and blocked by the minority of the international community, which is very aggressive and very bloodthirsty,” Lavrov said.

UN 'politicizing' Syria chemical weapons issue

In March the Syrian government said the rebels used a rocket with a chemical warhead in Aleppo, in the northwest of the country, killing 25 people, including soldiers, and injuring over 80.

Unconfirmed reports released in foreign media claimed that chemical weapons might have been used in several parts of Syria. The message came in the form of a letter, claiming that soil samples, witness interviews and statements from opposition sources supported the idea that nerve agents had been used in and around Aleppo, Homs and Damascus.

Lavrov suggested that UN chemical weapons inspectors examine specific allegations of chemical weapons use and accused the allies of politicizing the issue.

“Under continued pressure from certain Western members of the Security Council, the general-secretary has not dispatched the experts, and I consider this absolutely unacceptable. It's an attempt to politicize the issue,” he stated.

In April the UK and France addressed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with allegations that Syria allegedly used chemical weapons on multiple occasions since December, according to reports emerging from top diplomats and officials. Syria is one of the few countries that hasn’t signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, which internationally bans their use.

The message came in the form of a letter claiming that soil samples, witness interviews and statements from opposition sources supported the idea that nerve agents had been used in and around in the northwest of the country, Aleppo, as well as in the city of Homs and the capital, Damascus.

Assad’s administration has repeatedly denied the allegations, insisting that the rebels were behind the Aleppo attack on March 19.

Following the Aleppo incident, Barack Obama warned that any use of chemical attacks by the Assad government would constitute crossing a “red line”. The US president added that he had “instructed [his] teams to work closely with all other countries in the region and international organizations and institutions to find out precisely whether this red line was crossed.”

Meanwhile in late April, John Kerry announced that the US would double its non-lethal military aid to Syria’s rebels. The US $123 million defense aid package was announced by the Secretary of State at the meeting in Istanbul. He said the new non-lethal military supplies would go beyond the current provisions of food rations and medical kits. Since February, the US has shipped food and medical supplies to the Free Syrian Army, which according to the White House has so far cost an estimated $117 million.

The Syrian National Coalition has also declared it firmly rejects "all forms of terrorism." After German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle stressed that the Syrian opposition must distance itself from "terrorist and extremist" forces, the SNC vowed to guarantee that any weapons it receives will not “fall into the wrong hands.”

Damascus has repeatedly labeled the rebels fighting to oust Assad as "terrorists" sponsored by foreign powers. Bashar Assad maintained that the foreign element had played a key role since the outbreak of the Syrian crisis.

According to the UN, the violence in Syria has now killed more than 70,000 people and despite international pressure Assad has managed to retain power for far longer than expected by those advocating him to stand down.