ROME (Reuters) - Russia wants to mend ties with the United States but cannot do so while Barack Obama’s administration backs economic sanctions against Moscow for its role in the conflict in Ukraine, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted on Thursday as saying.
The United States and European Union imposed sanctions after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula last year. They also accuse Moscow of supporting a separatist rebellion in eastern Ukraine in which more than 9,000 people have been killed.
“As long as Obama’s deputy Joe Biden goes around Europe recommending continued sanctions against us without taking into account how Kiev is behaving under Western pressure, we will not be able to reach any understanding,” Lavrov told Thursday’s edition of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica in an interview.
Lavrov and Russian President Vladimir Putin are due to meet U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry next week to discuss the conflicts in Ukraine and in Syria.
Russia, the United States and United Nations will meet in Geneva on Friday to hold talks on Syria’s nearly five-year civil war and the Islamic State insurgency there. Russia began bombing rebel targets in Syria in late September in support of its ally President Bashar al-Assad.
Lavrov told La Repubblica that combined Russian, U.S. and Arab forces currently in Syria were enough to defeat Islamic State militants, but a coalition was not possible without agreement on the future of Assad.
The United States and its Sunni Muslim Arab allies say Assad must step down.
“If the partners in the potential coalition keep asking for a set date for Assad to leave the scene, we will reply that this is against the law and against democracy,” Lavrov said.
Lavrov said he did not know where Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was but that he had information about the militant group’s cells infiltrating the military in Libya.
He said a Western decision to remove veteran Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi had been an error and that Russia supported a United Nations plan to return Libya to stability “even though it is risky”.
A Dec. 13 meeting in Rome to promote a deal in Libya is important but will not resolve the whole problem, Lavrov added.
Reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Gareth Jones