Russia: Syria rebels obsession with Assad blocks peace

Wed Jan 23, 2013 8:08am EST
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By Timothy Heritage

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's foes are bent on overthrowing his government and called their "obsession" with this goal an insurmountable obstacle to peace.

Lavrov's comments at an annual news conference signaled no shift in the stance of Russia, which says Assad's exit from power must not be a precondition for a deal to end 22 months of violence in which more than 60,000 people have been killed.

"Everything runs up against opposition members' obsession with the idea of the overthrow of the Assad regime. As long as this irreconcilable position remains in force, nothing good will happen - armed action will continue, people will die," he said.

Russia has vetoed three U.N. Security Council resolutions aimed pressuring Assad to end the bloodshed, which began with a crackdown on protests in March 2011 and later escalated into civil war.

Lavrov also accused Western and Arab states that have recognized the opposition Syrian National Coalition of undermining chances for a peaceful solution to the conflict by granting too much support to the rebels.

"Opposition activists continue to categorically reject dialogue, have opted for military conflict and our partners... are encouraging them in that and support them with everything needed to prolong that fight," he said.

Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister since 2004 and the face of its policy on the Syrian conflict, said Moscow's main goal in Syria was to stop the bloodshed as soon as possible.

"But apparently other colleagues have other priorities," he said. "We often talk to them about that, they seem to understand it all, and the threat accompanying the prospect of the breakup of the Syrian state."   Continued...

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks during an annual news conference in Moscow January 23, 2013. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin