Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday hailed the Syrian regime’s “constructive reaction” to a proposed peace conference on ending the bloodshed in the war-torn country, as he welcomed Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad in Moscow.
“We value the constructive reaction by the Syrian leadership to the offer” of holding the international event, Lavrov said, adding that he hoped to “discuss specific details” during Muqdad’s visit.
Lavrov has joined US Secretary of State John Kerry in calling for the peace conference, dubbed “Geneva-2,” but the Russian minister said the initiative is being “undermined” by the actions of the opposition in Syria.
Representatives from the Syrian opposition on Tuesday demanded international guarantees that President Bashar al-Assad would step down as part of any peace deal and have no further stake in Syria’s future.
“So far, every time there is a flicker of hope, we are seeing efforts of well-known forces to ruin any movement forward along a political course,” Lavrov said.
“Among such actions… there is the kidnapping of your father,” he told Muqdad. “This is an unacceptable action by the armed opposition. Whether or not it’s their goal, it works to undermine efforts to call the conference.”
Gunmen abducted Muqdad’s 84-year-old father Saturday, apparently in reprisal for the arrest of one of their relatives.
Lavrov expressed hope that despite such “provocations”, the Assad regime would support a political solution to the conflict that has already killed over 90,000 people in just over two years.
“I’d like to highlight that the Syrian regime will always remain a party that strives toward a peaceful solution to the Syria crisis,” Muqdad said according to quotes translated into Russian.
He called the US-Russia call for talks an “important frontier in overcoming the difficulties Syria faces.”
“Unfortunately such efforts don’t find any response from those who want to continue the violence and bloodshed,” he added, calling his father’s kidnapping “only a small part of those sufferings now experienced by the Syrian people.”
The United States and Russia, which back opposite sides in the Syrian conflict, this month proposed a peace conference to bring together rebels and representatives of Assad’s regime.
On Wednesday, Kerry urged Assad to make a “commitment” for peace ahead of a meeting of the Friends of Syria group in Jordan.
Other officials, including British Foreign Secretary William Hague, have expressed doubt that any peace deal is possible unless Assad steps down.
Russia is seen as the most important remaining ally of Assad’s regime and the West wants Moscow to use its leverage to help end the conflict.