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Russia regrets absence of Iran, Saudi in Geneva

Hillary Clinton (L), U.S. Secretary of State, looks on as U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation Michael McFaul speaks during a meeting with human rights activists in St.Petersburg June 29, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia said on Friday it regretted that Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Lebanon had not been invited to ministerial crisis talks on Syria in Geneva on Saturday following objections by the United States.

The Foreign Ministry also said in a statement that agreement on a ceasefire and the withdrawal of government troops and rebel forces from cities would create a “favourable atmosphere” for a political transition.

Although the ministry welcomed the convening of the talks as a positive move, the statement pointed to no rapprochement with Western powers over plans for a political transition in Syria.

The ministry released its statement shortly before a dinner in St Petersburg at which U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was expected to try to persuade Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that Moscow should agree to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s departure.

Regretting Saudi Arabia, Iran, Jordan and Lebanon would not take part on the talks on Saturday with foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, it said: “The Russian proposal on this has met unsurmountable objections from the U.S. side, especially on the part concerning Iran.”

Turkey, Kuwait, Qatar, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby will also attend.

International mediator Kofi Annan will seek backing for a proposal that does not explicitly stipulate that Assad must step down, but does call for a unity government that would exclude figures who jeopardise stability.

Diplomats said Russia proposed changes on Thursday to Annan’s plan for a national unity government, despite initially supporting it, but the United States, Britain and France rejected the amendments.

Reporting by Gleb Bryanski, Editing by Timothy Heritage