Results of Syria talks must not be predetermined: Russia
MOSCOW (Reuters) - The outcome of any talks on Syria must not be predetermined, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday, maintaining Moscow's opposition to Western and Arab pressure for President Bashar al-Assad to cede power.
"It is not really the international community's business to try to determine the outcome of national dialogue in advance," Lavrov told a news conference after talks with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar.
Lavrov's remarks indicated that Russia, which vetoed a draft U.N. Security Council resolution supporting an Arab League call for Assad to step down, has not changed its stance following his meeting with Assad in Damascus on Tuesday.
Lavrov reiterated Russia's call for countries that have influence with opponents of Assad to press them to enter dialogue with the government. Moscow has accused Western nations of encouraging Assad's opponents to avoid talks.
"We need to get the government and all opposition groups to sit down at the negotiating table," Lavrov said.
Russia said it blocked the resolution on Saturday because it believed adopting it would have meant taking sides in a civil war in Syria, where the United Nations says more than 5,000 people have been killed in 11 months of violence.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan during a telephone conversation later on Wednesday that the search for a solution to Syria's crisis should continue, including in the U.N. Security Council, but that foreign interference was not an option, the Kremlin said.
Medvedev also spoke with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, asking him and other Western countries to avoid "hasty unilateral moves" towards Syria and said the position of the international community should be "balanced and objective," the Kremlin said.
Sarkozy's office said of the conversation: "Despite the blockage in the Security Council, which he (Sarkozy) deeply regretted, the head of state stressed the need to increase the pressure on the Syrian regime to stop the brutal repression of the Syrian people."
Lavrov said the draft Security Council resolution backed by Western and Arab nations would have put too little pressure on armed opponents of Assad to stop violence and would have allowed them to occupy cities following the withdrawal of government forces.
He made clear Russia did not approve of decisions by the United States and other countries to shut their embassies in Syria, saying that "we do not understand the logic of this" and that it would not help efforts to resolve Syria's crisis.
Lavrov reiterated Russia's support for an Arab League initiative floated last November that envisaged a withdrawal of troops from cities and towns, the release of prisoners and reforms.
In Damascus on Tuesday, Lavrov said Assad assured him he was committed to seeking an end to violence by all sides but he made no suggestion that the government, which blames the bloodshed on armed extremists, would halt its military offensive unilaterally.
Assad said he would cooperate with any plan that stabilized Syria, but made clear he was referring only to last November's Arab League proposal that called for dialogue and other measures - not to a January plan that called for him to cede power.
(Additional reporting by Guy Faulconbridge in Moscow and Leigh Thomas in Paris; Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Andrew Roche)
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