MOSCOW, February 1 (RIA Novosti) – The Russian Foreign Ministry denied on Friday reports claiming that a four-party meeting between Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, senior US and UN officials and a Syrian opposition leader is being set up on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.
Western media earlier reported that Lavrov would meet on Saturday with US Vice President Joseph Biden, UN/Arab League special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and the leader of the national Syrian opposition coalition Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib to discuss the escalating Syrian crisis.
“Speculations in the media about a Munich meeting between Lavrov, Biden, Brahimi and al-Khatib are false,” Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said in his Twitter blog.
“As of today, there is no such meeting mentioned in the program of the Russian foreign minister,” he said.
According to official statements by Moscow and Washington, Lavrov is planning to discuss the situation in Syria during separate meetings with Biden and Brahimi, while Biden is also scheduled for a “face-to-face” meeting with al-Khatib.
Lavrov reiterated on January 23 that Russia’s priority in the Syrian crisis remains the fastest possible end to the bloodshed in the country and stabilization of the situation there, and not keeping President Bashar al-Assad in power or overthrowing him.
He also criticized the Syrian opposition and said nothing positive would come from its continuing dedication to an armed struggle.
Syria has been locked in an increasingly bloody civil war since demonstrations broke out against president Assad in March 2011. According to UN estimates, at least 60,000 people have been killed in the 22-month-old conflict and more than 700,000 have been forced to flee Syria.
The National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (SNCROF) was formed on November 11 in Doha, Qatar, and proclaimed itself the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. Its legitimacy has since been recognized by Western powers but questioned by Moscow.
Moaz al-Khatib rejected in December an invitation from Russia to discuss a peaceful resolution of the Syrian crysis. In an interview with Al Jazeera television he said he wanted an apology from Moscow for its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Russia has faced strong international criticism over its refusal to back UN sanctions against Syria, its last ally in the Arab world, over what it calls the pro-rebel bias of some resolutions proposed by Western nations.