| MOSCOW, March 8
MOSCOW, March 8 Russia will "absolutely not"
tell Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down to end the
civil war and make way for a political transition, Foreign
Minister Sergei Lavrov said in comments published on Friday.
The remarks to the BBC were a reiteration of Moscow's
position that Assad's exit must not be a precondition for a
negotiated solution to the two-year-old conflict that has killed
more than 70,000 people.
Asked whether there was a chance that Russia would tell
Assad he should step down for the sake of a peace agreement,
Lavrov replied: "Absolutely not. You know that we're not in the
"We are against interference in domestic conflicts. And this
is our position, which should be of no surprise to anyone," he
said, according to an English-language version of his comments
posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry website.
Lavrov said Assad had repeatedly said he was not going to
"All those who get in touch with him know that he is not
bluffing, and that he is prepared to discuss any issue - among
Russia has blocked three U.N. Security Council resolutions
meant to push Assad out or press him to end violence, a position
that has set it against Western and Arab nations which say he
must leave power.
Lavrov said he saw signs of flexibility.
"I'm glad that the latest discussions and the latest
gestures from the opposition, and statements from some of those
who support the opposition, hint that they would be prepared to
start negotiations with some negotiating team without asking
President Assad to step down," he was quoted as saying.
Lavrov spoke before a visit to London next week for the
first meeting under the auspices of a new "strategic dialogue"
between Russia and Britain. Syria is among the issues on the
agenda for the talks on Wednesday between the two countries'
foreign and defence ministers.
The Kremlin and the U.S. government have spoken recently of
the need to step up efforts to end the war and start a political
transition but several meetings - including one in London on
Thursday between senior Russian and U.S. diplomats - have
brought few signs of progress.
(Reporting by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Angus MacSwan)