Last updated: 11 March, 2013

Top Syrian opposition official meets Russia’s Lavrov

A top Syrian opposition official met Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday in a bid to reverse Moscow’s refusal to back calls on President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

Haytham Manna of the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change — Syria’s second-largest anti-Assad group — said he thought the road to peace in Syria ran through Moscow.

“We have always said that a peaceful political solution goes through Moscow,” Manna told Lavrov in opening remarks of their meeting at the Russian foreign ministry.

“A military solution is still being enforced on the ground. But the predominant majority of Syrians are convinced that a political solution is desirable, that it will save us, and that it stands a real chance.”

Russia has vetoed three UN resolutions sanctioning Assad for the violence and has said it viewed pressure on him to step down as undue foreign interference.

Lavrov gave no sign on Monday that Moscow was ready to ease its stance in regard to its traditional Arab ally two years into the conflict.

“The most important thing is that all the questions be decided by the Syrians themselves, without pressure from abroad, so that the Syrians themselves decide their own fate and the fate of individual politicians,” Lavrov told Manna.

“The situation in Syria is not getting any better, even though all the sides agree that there should be an end to violence and the start of dialogue.

“But there are many of those who are trying to prevent this, including some outside sponsors of the so-called ‘irreconcilable opposition’,” Lavrov said in reference to Arab and Western states.

Russia has long accused regional and Western powers of using double standards by helping the armed opposition with financial support used to purchase weapons while at the same time calling for talks.

Lavrov said he hoped that the more moderate opposition voices could unite in an effort to get negotiations under way with Assad — talks that some opposition forces say are impossible with him still in power.

“Uniting the patriotic opposition for a dialogue will go a long way to achieving the goals we want,” said Lavrov.