Russia says "not thinking about" asylum for Assad
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia has made no agreement to grant Syrian President Bashar al-Assad asylum and is "not even thinking about" doing so, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday.
The remarks fell short of a statement that Russia would not consider taking in Assad but were among Moscow's strongest indications yet that it is not planning to do so.
"We have said more than once publicly that we are not even thinking about this," Lavrov said when asked about media reports Russia was ready to offer Assad asylum.
"There is no agreement, no thought about this issue," Lavrov told reporters on a flight to Moscow from the Black Sea resort of Sochi, where he and President Vladimir Putin met Japan's foreign minister.
"This is all a provocation by those who want to place all the blame for what is happening in Syria on us and on China."
Lavrov reiterated statements by Putin and other Russian officials that a Moscow has no special relationship with the Syrian government, suggesting it might make more sense for a Western nation to take him in.
"We are not and have not been the closest friends of the Syrian regime. Its best friends are in Europe, and if somebody wants to resolve this issue in such a way, let them think about their capabilities."
Russia has said it is not propping up Assad and would accept his exit from power in a political transition decided by the Syrian people, but that his exit must be a precondition and he must not be pushed out by external forces.
(Reporting by Denis Dyomkin; Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Michael Roddy)