Russia sees slim chance of resolving Syria crisis at talks

MOSCOW Fri Dec 7, 2012 5:53am EST

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov suggested there is only a slim chance of finding a solution to the crisis in Syria at talks with the United States and international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, according to comments published on Friday.

Lavrov, who met Brahimi and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Dublin on Thursday, confirmed a U.S. State Department official's statement that U.S. and Russian officials would hold a follow-up meeting with Brahimi in coming days.

"Russia and the United States agreed that our experts will meet in the coming days with Brahimi and his people for a brainstorm and an exchange of opinions on how to move forward toward a resolution," Lavrov said.

"I would not make optimistic predictions, but I will say that we found it unjustified to refuse (Brahimi's) request for a meeting. The United States shares this position," he said, according to a Foreign Ministry transcript of his remarks.

"It remains to be seen what will come out of this."

Lavrov echoed Brahimi by saying the talks would be based on the Geneva Declaration, which was agreed at a meeting in June involving international powers and called for a transitional administration in Syria.

Lavrov said that Brahimi understands that the chances of success are "far from 100 percent" but believes Russia and the United States can play leading roles in trying to determine what can be done to implement the agreement reached in Geneva.

The United States and Russia disagreed at the time over what the Geneva Declaration meant for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, with Clinton saying it set a clear signal that he must quit and Lavrov saying it suggested nothing of the kind.

Russia has tried to distance itself from Assad at times in public comments over the past year, despite using its U.N. Security Council veto three times to block Western and Arab efforts to push him out or press him to end the bloodshed.

Lavrov said Russia was ready for constructive talks, but gave no indication it was stepping back from its position that Assad's fate must not be decided by outside forces and his exit cannot be a precondition for a political dialogue in Syria.

"Russia and the United States for understandable reasons acknowledge their special responsibility for international security, and this aspect was particularly stressed by Brahimi," Lavrov said.

(Editing by Timothy Heritage and Jon Boyle)

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