Russia ready to host Syria talks

Published Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Russia said Tuesday it wanted to host a new meeting of foreign powers concerning the Syria crisis but stressed that the talks should not decide the fate of President Bashar al-Assad.

Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said the attempt made in Geneva on June 30 to save international envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan for the crisis needed to be continued with the involvement countries such as Iran.

"We would welcome organizing another Contact Group meeting in Moscow. But we would also not be opposed to Geneva if special representative (Annan) and group participants find this more appropriate," he told the Interfax news agency.

He made his comments as Syrian opposition groups visited Moscow for talks on the conflict in their country.

Bogdanov added that the talks would benefit from the presence of such Syrian allies as Iran – strongly opposed by both Washington and European powers – as well rebel supporters Saudi Arabia and other regional states.

The Geneva talks ended with a broad consensus on the need for a transition of power in Syria but disagreement over Assad's fate.

Russia stressed that the final text made no mention of the strongman's future while US Secretary of States Hillary Clinton argued that his ouster was implicit because the plan excluded those with "blood on their hands."

Bogdanov said Russia was not "holding on to Assad" but defending basic international principles that prevented powerful nations from deciding the internal conflicts of smaller states.

"The fate of a particular leader should be decided by the people in accordance with international legislation," said Bogdanov.

The comments come a day after Moscow said it would not deliver any new weapons to Syria while the crisis continued, in a bid to appease Western powers critical of Russia's arms trade with Damascus.

"While the situation in Syria is unstable, there will be no new deliveries of arms there," Vyacheslav Dzirkaln, the deputy director of Russia's Federal Service for Military Technical Co-operation, told journalists at the Farnborough Airshow in Britain, Interfax news agency reported.

Syria's arms trade ties with Moscow date back to the Soviet era. It has previously signed contracts worth billions of dollars and hosts a Mediterranean supply-and-repair facility that is Russia's only naval base outside the former Soviet Union.

However a Russian analyst said Moscow had already distanced itself from Assad.

"Russia has stopped signing new contracts with Syria and is delaying the shipments of already signed contracts," Ruslan Aliyev, an expert on the Russian-Syria arms trade at Moscow-based defence think-tank CAST, told Reuters on Monday.

"It's basically a political decision based on Moscow's view of Syria."

(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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