MOSCOW Russia said on Sunday it was not holding any talks on the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, dismissing speculation that it is preparing for its ally's potential exit from power.
The United States and its NATO allies have pressed for Assad's departure as part of efforts to end the bloodshed in Syria, but Russia and China have blocked action against the Syrian leader at the U.N. Security Council.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held talks on Syria with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi on Thursday, but Lavrov dismissed suggestions that this meant Moscow had changed its stance.
"We are not holding any talks on the fate of Assad," Itar-Tass news agency quoted Lavrov as saying during a meeting on Sunday.
"All attempts to present the situation differently are rather shady, even for the diplomacy of those countries that are known for striving to distort facts in their own favor."
He said the priority was to end the fighting in Syria, not to discuss the fate of one man.
"Our position on Syria is well-known," he said. Reiterating the line that Russian officials have used repeatedly, he said: "Moscow does not stick to Assad or to some other figure on the Syrian political scene."
He repeated Russia's opposition to a repeat of what happened in Libya, where "our NATO colleagues grossly distorted the mandate granted to them by a U.N. Security Council resolution ... and launched a fight against the existing power."
He said countries that criticized Russia and China for vetoing U.N. Security Council resolutions on Syria were "dishonest".
U.S. and Russian talks with Brahimi were resuming in Geneva on Sunday but gave no details other than to repeat that Russia had set no pre-conditions for the talks.
(Reporting by Nastassia Astrasheuskaya, Editing by Timothy Heritage)