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Assad ready for peace talks - Russia

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The Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said on Monday that the government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria was ready to engage in peace negotiations without preconditions and he urged the United States and other Western nations to bring Syrian opposition groups to the table for a new round of talks.

Mr. Lavrov, who met here on Monday with the Syrian deputy prime minister, Qadri Jamil, blamed opposition groups for the lack of progress in peace efforts. He and Mr. Jamil said that they had discussed the possibility of additional economic aid for Syria, in the form of a loan from Russia, with terms to be finalized later this year.

After more than two years of civil war, the Syrian economy is in tatters and the Assad government is heavily reliant on foreign aid, particularly from Russia and Iran. Russia is also an important supplier of arms and humanitarian aid to the Syrian government.

Mr. Lavrov and Mr. Jamil said that Russia would continue to sell weapons to Syria through existing arms contracts but said they had not discussed the sale of S-300 surface-to-air antiaircraft systems that have alarmed the United States and its allies, according to Russian news agencies.

The lack of progress in settling the Syrian conflict has been persistent source of tension between the United States and Russia.

The White House is also deeply frustrated over the continued presence of the fugitive former intelligence contractor, Edward J. Snowden, in the transit zone of a Moscow airport and officials in Washington have recently signaled that President Obama may cancel a planned summit meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin scheduled to take place in Moscow in September before the Group of 20 conference in St. Petersburg.

Mr. Lavrov, in comments before and after the meeting with Mr. Jamil, said that Russia remained committed to finding a peaceful resolution to the Syrian crisis and he urged all sides to attend peace talks in Geneva, in accordance with a plan that he brokered with Secretary of State John Kerry.

Mr. Lavrov insisted that the opposition groups were responsible for delaying the talks and, clearly referring to the United States and its Western allies, he said Russia was persistently pushing its partners with influence over the opposition groups to bring them to the table.

“To our regret, in contrast to the Syrian government, a significant part of the opposition, including the National Coalition, does not show such readiness,” Mr. Lavrov said.

In a statement, the Russia Foreign Ministry said the meeting “emphasized the common desire for a speedy end to all violence in Syria and the beginning of the recovery process.”

The New York Times

September 21 2013, 14:56

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