September 6, 2013 / 6:17 PM / 6 years ago

Russian lawmakers call off U.S. trip after Congress snub

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Russian lawmakers have canceled plans to travel to the United States to discuss the crisis in Syria with their U.S. counterparts after congressional leaders refused to see them, the Russian ambassador to Washington said on Friday.

A Free Syrian Army fighter aims a weapon as he takes a defensive position in Deir al-Zor September 5, 2013. Picture taken September 5, 2013. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

The Obama administration has been intensely lobbying Congress to authorize a U.S. military strike against Syria in response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by Syria’s government in that country’s civil war.

Presumably the Russian lawmakers would have taken the opposite view and lobbied their U.S. counterparts against supporting U.S. military action in Syria, which Moscow opposes.

But the Russians, who first proposed the trip to Washington a few days ago, decided against it after the leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate declined to get involved, Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak said.

“We’re disappointed. The delegation isn’t coming. I think American legislators lost an opportunity to learn at least some alternative views,” Kislyak said at the Center for the National Interest think tank in Washington.

“They wanted to be heard and they wanted to hear,” he said of the Russian lawmakers. “They thought it was an important issue,” and wanted to discuss it “irrespective of the very low level of contacts between the legislatures,” Kislyak said.

Obama’s push for military action in Syria has drawn a mixed response in Congress, with scores of lawmakers still undecided about authorizing military force.

Aides to House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, confirmed they had declined invitations to meet Russian lawmakers about Syria, but did not elaborate.

The aborted meeting of lawmakers comes at a low point in U.S.-Russian relations, with the two sides bitterly divided by the crisis in Syria as well as by Russia’s decision last month to grant asylum to former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden, who revealed details of U.S. surveillance programs.

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that he and U.S. President Barack Obama were still at odds over Syria, but listened to each other during a one-on-one meeting on the sidelines of a G20 summit in St. Petersburg. Putin blamed the chemical attack on opponents of the Syrian government.

Reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Vicki Allen

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