A journalist walks through rubble in the al-Marja neighbourhood of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on January 21, 2014
A journalist walks through rubble in the al-Marja neighbourhood of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on January 21, 2014 © Zein al-Rifai - Aleppo Media Centre/AFP
A journalist walks through rubble in the al-Marja neighbourhood of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on January 21, 2014
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AFP
Last updated: January 22, 2014

Syria talks "will not be simple, will not be quick," says Lavrov

Efforts to broker a peace settlement for Syria will be neither simple nor quick, but a peace conference marks a historic opportunity, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday.

"The negotiations will not be simple, they will not be quick," Lavrov said as the conference got under way in the Swiss lakeside town of Montreux.

"There is a historic responsiblity on the shoulders of all participants," he told delegates from Syria's warring sides and some 40 countries.

"Our common task is to achieve an end to the tragic conflict in Syria, which has brought incalculable pain to the Syrian people," he underlined.

Russia is the leading world power ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who supporters of the three-year Syrian revolt say no longer has a place at the country's helm.

While backing calls for a Syrian transition government -- a plan agreed to by the international community at a 2012 conference in Geneva, but never implemented -- Lavrov warned against imposing Arab Spring-style political change from outside.

"Attempts to dictate to countries of the Middle East and North Africa recipes of reforms from the outside, to set up experiments in social engineering, this only throws back the processes of political and economic modernisation," he said.

"You do not need to go far to find the relevant examples," he added, without elaborating.

In another thinly-disguised swipe at the Syrian opposition's leading backers, who include the likes of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as well as the West, Lavrov called on "all players to respect the principles of sovereignty under international law".

Lavrov also warned of the rising ramifications of the Syrian crisis beyond the countries borders.

"We must not allow the shockwaves to engulf the region," he said.

The Syrian war has become a magnet for foreign Islamist fighters, leading the Assad regime to depict the conflict as a "war on terror", although the opposition fighters have also clashed with some jihadist hardliners.

"The threat of Syria turning into a cauldron of international terrorism has turned into a most serious problem. Extremists from across the world are wrecking chaos, ruining cultural and democratic foundation formed over centuries," said Lavrov, whose comments were translated from Russian into English.

"Russia's maintains its position that there can be no solution through the use of force," he said.

"The conference gives –- if not a 100-percent –- but a real chance to achieve peace," he added.

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