Russian foreign minister not in favour of regime change in Syria

MOSCOW – Moscow will not push Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to quit and welcomes opposition leaders’ saying they’d talk to the regime, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said

“We’re not in the regime-change game. We are against interference in domestic conflicts,” Lavrov told the BBC in an interview published Thursday. “It is not for us to decide who should lead Syria. It is for the Syrians to decide.”

Lavrov further said that negotiations would be the best way to solve the crisis in Syria.

“We have been against any preconditions to stop the violence and start the dialogue, because we believe that the priority number one is to save lives,” Lavrov said.

The Russian foreign minister added that those who say Assad must disappear before the start of any talks have a different priority than the lives of the Syrian people.

Lavrov reiterated that it was only up to the Syrian nation to decide who will lead their country.

“Unless we all act in sync, telling the parties we don’t want any military solution, that we don’t want any further loss of Syrian lives, that we want them to start negotiating in earnest this crisis will continue and more blood will be shed.”

Lavrov said the departure of Assad should not be a pre-condition for negotiations to end the conflict because it was highly unlikely to happen.

“He is not going to leave, we know this for sure — all those who get in touch with him know that he is not bluffing,” the Russian minister said.

Lavrov is scheduled to visit London next week for talks with British Foreign Secretary William Hague.

Both countries said discussions will focus on the Syrian crisis.

Lavrov said he didn’t think Britain and Russia differed that much on the goals for Syria, the BBC said.

“I don’t think we are far apart as far as the eventual goal is concerned. We both want Syria to be united, to be democratic. We both want the Syrian people to choose freely the way they would like to run their country,” Lavrov said. “That has been the Russian position … since the crisis started.”

Russia has been an ally of the Syrian government and is the country’s largest arms supplier.

Russia could consider a possible arms embargo in relation to Syria if it were told what steps would be taken to suppress weapons supplies to the Syrian opposition, Lavrov said.

The possibility of demilitarizing this conflict was brought up in Geneva, and Moscow would like to understand how it can be done as weapons deliveries to the Syrian opposition continue, Lavrov said.

Russia also would like to receive an explanation how the opposition’s certain supply routes will be checked, the minister said.

If Russia were given such an answer, it could consider some steps to demilitarize the conflict in Syria, he said.

According to the Russian Foreign Ministry, the Russian President’s special envoy to the Middle East, Mikhail Bogdanov, and the US Deputy Secretary of State, William Burns, reiterated, during their recent meeting, their mutual adherence to the Final Communiqu, agreed by the Action Group for Syria in Geneva on June 30th 2012.

The two diplomats stressed the need for an immediate initiation of a transition political process to launch dialogue between the warring Syrian sides.

The Russian and American diplomats met Thursday on the sidelines of the fifth ministerial meeting of the Friends of Yemen Group in London.

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