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Attempts to Arm Syria Rebels Prevent Conference - Russian FM

The West’s attempts to arm the Syrian opposition hinder efforts to hold an international conference on Syria, the Russian foreign minister said.

RIO DE JANEIRO, June 12 (RIA Novosti) - The West’s attempts to arm the Syrian opposition hinder efforts to hold an international conference on Syria, the Russian foreign minister said.

“[The Syrian opposition’s] statement is that the conference is possible only when the military balance on the ground is restored,” Sergei Lavrov told journalists.

“But if this criterion is taken into account, we will never convene that conference,” he said.

“Conniving at such sentiments of opposition figures in favor of arming them for them to regain some additional areas, I think, means acting directly against the prospective conference,” Lavrov said.

More than 80,000 people are believed to have died since fighting broke out between Syrian government forces and rebels in March 2011.

Russia, along with China, has faced widespread condemnation over its refusal to approve UN sanctions against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.

Moscow has repeatedly stated it has no interest in seeing Assad remain in power, but is rather concerned that unilateral sanctions would create a power vacuum that would lead to more violence.

Moscow insists that Syria’s neighbors as well as Iran and Egypt be invited to the conference, Lavrov also said.

“We believe that representation of Arab countries without Egypt at the conference would be flawed,” he said. “Unfortunately, our partners are against such full-fledged representation of the regional countries at the conference, with a special objection to invitation of Iran.”

Lavrov announced in early May, after a Moscow meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry, that the two countries had decided to hold an international conference aimed at facilitating a solution through political dialogue to the Syrian crisis.

The conference is designed to be a follow-up to last summer’s international meeting in Geneva that drafted a peace roadmap for Syria. Efforts to set up the talks are continuing, despite the EU announcement that the arms embargo would be lifted, and Russia stating recently it would deliver S-300 air defense missiles and Yakhont anti-ship missiles to the Assad regime.

Western support for Syria’s armed opposition would only fuel violence in the war-torn country, the Russian foreign minister insisted earlier in June.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that foreign intervention in the Syrian civil war is unacceptable because it would result in a new source of terror in the region.

Earlier this month Moscow slammed Western support for Syria’s armed opposition following the European Union’s decision to end the embargo on arms supplies to Syria.


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