MOSCOW/damascus: Russian diplomats told a top visiting US dignitary yesterday that Moscow would continue backing Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s campaign against rebel forces despite peace talks due later this month.
US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman’s visit came ahead of a crunch meeting in Paris on Monday between her boss John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that will focus on Moscow’s push to give Syrian ally Iran a formal seat at the so-called Geneva 2 conference.
Russian officials said Lavrov and Kerry would also hold a joint meeting in Paris on Monday with UN-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.
Sherman did not address reporters after her meeting with Russian Deputy Foreign Ministers Mikhail Bogdanov and Gennady Gatilov. The two diplomats will represent Moscow at the Syria negotiations that are scheduled to begin on January 22 in Switzerland. But the Russian foreign ministry said Sherman was told that Assad’s campaign against “terrorist groups” deserved comprehensive support.
“The Russian representatives stressed the importance of uniting efforts by the Syrian government and the patriotically-inclined opposition to fight terrorist groups whose activities are threatening not only the future of Syria, but also regional stability,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.
Moscow uses the phrase “patriotically-inclined opposition” to refer to Syrian groups that are not part of Assad’s ruling Baath party but which are sanctioned by the regime and do not include the opposition National Coalition umbrella body or rebels fighting on the ground.
The Russian statement said Moscow and Washington agreed that the Geneva 2 conference — a follow-up to July 2012 consultations that failed to put an end to the fighting — must focus on engaging regime and opposition members in their first direct contact.
“The forum must give the start to direct Syrian talks based on the Geneva communique, whose frameworks call on the Syrians themselves to decide the issue of how their future government works,” the Russian statement said.Agencies
500 killed in a week of fighting
DAMASCUS: Nearly 500 people, among them at least 85 civilians, have been killed in a week of fighting pitting Syrian rebels against jihadists in the north of the strife-torn country. The fighting raged as Western governments that back the revolt against President Bashar Al Assad prepared to intensify pressure on the opposition to participate in peace talks with the regime planned for later this month.
A new front opened last Friday in Syria’s nearly three-year-old war, when powerful massive rebel groups combined to attack bases and checkpoints of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). AFP/Peninsula