WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States said on Thursday it was important to partner with Russia to help bring Syria’s warring sides together for a proposed peace conference despite Moscow’s financial and military backing for President Bashar al-Assad.
Assad told Lebanon’s Al-Manar television that Russia is committed to implementing a 2010 contract for S-300 air defense missiles. A Russian defense ministry source said the missiles had not been sent yet.
“This is something that is concerning ... but at the same time we recognize that the role the Russians play here are as an important partner in helping bring the regime to the table,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.
“We are not claiming to agree with the Russians on every issue, and not every issue on Syria, but we see them as an important partner on moving to a conference and moving to a political transition and there is no reason, we have to believe, that they don’t want to be a partner in that,” she added.
The United States, France and Israel have called on Russia not to deliver the missiles. Israel worries the air defense system threatens its security and has signaled it will act to prevent Assad from putting it into operation.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed his concerns privately to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov several days ago during talks on a peace conference, Psaki said.
Russia and the United States are trying to bring together Syrian government and opposition officials for talks on a transitional government. U.N., Russian and U.S. officials will meet in Geneva on June 5 to prepare for the proposed talks.
The latest push to end the Syrian conflict has been driven by worsening reports of atrocities committed by both sides and by allegations that chemical weapons have been used by Assad’s forces.
“The point here is working with countries like Russia, who has ties to the regime, to see if we can get both sides back to the table, and that is the special role they can play in this process and why we feel it is important to partner with them,” Psaki added.
The United States has said it is not aware of any new missile deliveries to Syria.
“The receipt of any arms that are being provided to the regime by Russia or any country is something that of course is a concern to us,” Psaki said. “That is why we are working so hard with our international partners to help the opposition but we’re hopeful this conference is an opportunity to move a transitional government forward.”
Moscow spoke out on Thursday against the Syrian opposition’s insistence on Assad’s removal as precondition for talks and slammed Washington for refusing to rule out the idea of a no-fly zone over Syria, saying it cast doubt on its commitment to end the conflict.
Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Lisa Shumaker