MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denounced as “odious” a U.S.-backed draft resolution condemning the Syrian government before a debate at the U.N. Human Rights Council on Wednesday and said it would undermine peace efforts.
Lavrov said U.S. support for the draft resolution, which would condemn “widespread and systematic gross violations of human rights” by Syrian authorities and affiliated militias, ran counter to U.S.-Russian efforts to convene a peace conference.
“The U.S. delegation (at the council in Geneva) is very actively promoting this extremely unwholesome initiative,” Lavrov told a news conference after talks with Latin American counterparts in Moscow.
He said the draft was “unilateral and odious” and likened it to a U.N. General Assembly resolution adopted earlier this month that he said was aimed at creating obstacles to U.S.-Russian efforts to foster a peaceful solution.
Lavrov said it was unacceptable to support the conference, which he and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry are trying to organize, while at the same time “taking steps that are in essence aimed at undermining this proposal”.
Lavrov reiterated Russian insistence that Iran be invited to the conference, an idea opposed by France, and said opponents of President Bashar al-Assad should be persuaded to enter negotiations “without preconditions” such as his exit.
Russia has been Assad’s most powerful protector during the conflict that has killed more than 80,000 people, opposing U.N. sanctions and, along with China, blocking three Western-backed U.N. Security Council resolutions it said were one-sided.
Iran is the main regional ally of Assad.
Speaking in Paris, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said any decision to include Iran in the Geneva talks would be “extremely dangerous” as it would harm prospects of reaching a deal with Tehran on its disputed nuclear program.
“We fear that if they are part of the Syrian conference they will try to drag things on to such an extent that they will blackmail us saying that the Syrian crisis can only be resolved on condition that they have the nuclear bomb,” Fabius told France Inter radio. Iran denies seeking nuclear bomb capability.
Fabius said that with Iran having sent instructors and officers to Syria and encouraged Hezbollah to fight anti-Assad rebels, it would be a mistake to “ask people to attend a conference whose objective is to prevent a positive solution”.
Russia joined the United States and other powers last June in calling for the creation of a transitional governing body in Syria and says it is not trying to prop Assad up but that his departure cannot be imposed as a precondition for talks.
Lavrov also said the European Union’s decision on Thursday to let an arms embargo on Syria lapse, allowing members to supply rebels on their own initiative, “at a minimum creates serious hurdles” to plans for the peace conference.
Russia says the weapons it supplies Assad’s government are meant for defense against external attacks. Moscow has declared it will not yield to pressure to scrap a contract to deliver S-300 ground-to-air missile systems to Syria.
Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris; Editing by Mark Heinrich