Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will declare a date in the near future for a referendum on a new constitution for his country, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday following talks with the Syrian leader in Damascus.
"President Assad said that in the next few days, he will meet with a commission which has prepared a new constitution project. This work is complete, now a time will be announced for the referendum for this document which is so important to Syria," Lavrov said.
Al-Assad is ready for dialogue with all political forces in the country, and also ready to make talks happen, Lavrov continued.
"It's clear that effort to stop use of force must coincide with a declaration of dialoge between all political forces," Lavrov said. "Today we have received confirmation of the Syrian President's readiness to work toward this task," he added.
Lavrov’s visit, together with Foreign Intelligence Service chief Mikhail Fradkov, comes three days after Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution condemning the violent crackdown in Syria.
Lavrov had not previously revealed the purpose of his mission, telling a news conference in Moscow on Monday it would be “unveiled only to the addressee.”
Ahead of the visit, he said the UN Security Council was too “hasty” in bringing the resolution to a vote and described Western condemnation of Moscow’s veto as “hysterical.”
Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the Russian and Chinese vetoes as a “fiasco” and said that his country was preparing a new initiative.
“We will start a new initiative with those countries who stand by the Syrian people, not the regime,” Erdogan told a meeting of his ruling AK Party in Ankara.
The talks between Assad and Lavrov are taking place as Syrian authorities continued to bombard the city of Homs, a center of resistance to his regime. The Syrian government denied targeting civilians and say security forces killed “dozens of terrorists” in Homs on Monday.
Homs has been under attack from government forces for weeks. About one hundred people were reported killed on Monday alone.
Human rights groups say more than 7,000 people have died since the uprising began in March last year. The government says around 2,000 members of its security forces have been killed in the unrest.
EU foreign police chief Catherine Ashton said on Tuesday EU foreign ministers would meet in two weeks to discuss ways to stop violence in Syria.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the violence in Syria was “totally unacceptable before humanity.”
The U.S. State Department said on Monday it had shut its embassy in Damascus.
Russia is one of Syria’s main arms suppliers. In December, Russia signed a $550 million contract to sell Syria 36 Yak-130 combat trainer jets, and a Russian-owned ship reportedly carrying ammunition docked at a Syrian port last month.