Syrian Opposition Fails to Shift Russia Stance on Assad

The exiled Syrian opposition on Tuesday failed to convince Moscow to toughen its stance against the regime of defiant leader Bashar al-Assad, the leader of the Paris-based dissident delegation said.

Members of the largest and most representative Syrian opposition grouping, the Syrian National Council -- led by its head Burhan Ghalioun -- traveled to Moscow for talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

"We have asked several times (that Russia pushes for the resignation of Assad), but the Russians responded that even the Arab League does not demand this," Ghalioun said as translated from Arabic to Russian.

"We told our Russian colleagues that to make the start of the talks possible we believe it is necessary for Russia and the international community to send an important signal and demand Bashar al-Assad's resignation," Ghalioun said after the talks at the Russian foreign ministry.

But Lavrov "did not make any concrete propositions," he said.

"We want the crisis to be overcome," he said, stressing that Assad's departure is a priority. "And we would like this without military interference from the outside."

Russia has repeatedly opposed Western efforts to slap sanctions against its traditional Middle Eastern ally Syria over its lethal crackdown on protests, insisting on the need for dialogue.

Moscow has also become one of the few countries which condemned Syria's suspension from the Arab League, saying Monday that the move was "incorrect" and appeared to be pre-planned.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev last month called on Assad to accept reforms or resign, but Moscow has subsequently not backed insistent Western calls for him to quit.

In a separate statement issued after the talks, the Russian foreign ministry said it urged all members of the Syrian opposition who were against violence to join the Arab League's plan to end nearly eight months of bloodshed in Syria.

The Arab roadmap offered to the Syrian government at the start of the month called for an immediate halt to the bloodletting, the removal of tanks from the streets, and the start of a dialogue between the Damascus regime and its opponents.

Russian diplomats stressed the importance of "conducting reforms in the interests of all Syrians" as well as the "inadmissibility of military interference in Syria's affairs from the outside," the statement said.

"Burhan Ghalioun on the whole agreed with such an approach with an emphasis on the aforementioned Arab League initiative," it said.

Source: Agence France Presse

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