Russian FM Sergei Lavrov said Iran should participate in any future international talks on the Syrian crisis
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has denied holding discussions with other nations on a political transformation in its Soviet-era ally Syria that would include the departure of President Bashar al-Assad. © Kirill Kudryavtsev - AFP
Russian FM Sergei Lavrov said Iran should participate in any future international talks on the Syrian crisis
Last updated: June 15, 2012

Russia denies discussing post-Assad Syria with West

Russia on Friday denied discussing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's departure with Western nations and warned it may skip a planned conference on the crisis if Iran is not invited as well.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's comments seemed aimed at quashing reports from several major capitals about a discernible shift in Russia's approach to its Soviet-era ally that acknowledged the nearing end of Assad's regime.

The French foreign minister said on Friday that Russia views Assad as a "tyrant" while a US State Department spokeswoman said a day earlier that "the Russians have also talked about" a political transition in Syria.

"If this was really said, this is not true," Lavrov said in reference to US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland's comments.

"There were no such discussions and there could not have been such discussions. This completely contradicts our position," he told reporters.

"We are not involved in regime change through either the UN Security Council or through involvement in any sort of political conspiracies."

Lavrov was speaking just a day after meeting US Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns in Kabul for talks that Washington said touched on a transition in Syria modelled on the one adopted for Yemen in the past year.

"It was a constructive conversation, and we're continuing to talk to the Russians about this," Nuland said in comments posted Thursday on the State Department website.

Russia has distanced itself from Assad in recent months while still vowing to block any attempts to have the UN Security Council approve foreign military intervention that could help Syrian rebels oust Assad.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said his meetings with Russian officials showed that Moscow was primarily concerned about who should take power in the volatile region if Assad left.

"The Russians are not today attached to the person of Bashar al-Assad," Fabius told France Inter radio.

"They clearly see he is a tyrant and a murderer. But they are sensitive about who might take his place, if Assad is ousted. The discussion is about that."

The French foreign minister also said that major world powers could soon hold a conference on Syria in the Swiss city of Geneva.

"There is a possibility, I don't know if we'll get there, but there is a possibility of holding a conference in Geneva on June 30," said Fabius.

Participants would include countries on the Security Council but the meeting would be held "without the constraints of the Security Council," he added.

Lavrov said that Russia could participate in such a meeting under the condition that it agreed with the list of participating nations.

He called Iran's involvement "absolutely essential" despite resistance to the idea from the US State Department as well as Britain and France.

Lavrov added that the Geneva meeting must further avoid deciding the political future of Syria and instead focus on ways to end the bloodshed.

"If these two conditions are met, we are ready and will definitely take part in such a conference," Lavrov said.

"But it is important to respect our interests. These are not selfish interests -- they are a position aimed at achieving a result."

Russia has previously suggested holding such a conference in Moscow.

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