Russia refuses to attend Syria meeting

MOSCOW Tue Feb 21, 2012 4:12am EST

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia will not attend an international meeting on the conflict in Syria this week because the Syrian government will not be represented, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.

The Friends of Syria, backed by Western powers and the Arab League, will meet in Tunis on Friday to seek an international agreement on how to end the violence in Syria and is expected to put pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

The Russian Foreign Ministry regretted that the only Syrian representatives would be from the opposition, and suggested that the United Nations Security Council should send a special humanitarian envoy to Syria.

"Thus, the meeting can hardly help start all-Syrian national dialogue in a search for ways to combat the internal crisis," ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement.

"We don't see a possibility for us to take part in the meeting," he said.

Russia and China vetoed a draft U.N. Security Council resolution this month that would have backed an Arab plan calling for Assad to step down. The two countries also voted against a non-binding resolution in the General Assembly last week that backed the Arab plan.

The Foreign Ministry made a new call for Europe, the United States and the Arab region to join forces and bring together the Syrian opposition and government without preconditions to help them agree on reforms.

Once reforms are implemented and violence ends, it will be possible to send humanitarian aid to Syria, Lukashevich said.

"We suggest that the Security Council members tell the U.N. General Secretary to send a special envoy to Syria to reconcile the issues of providing safe delivery of humanitarian shipments," he said.

Russia's ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin had said on Monday that Moscow was preparing to make proposals on humanitarian relief for Syria.

(Reporting by Nastassia Astrasheuskaya, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Janet Lawrence)

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