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Russian envoy to Paris says believes Assad ready to go

The Russian ambassador modified his declaration on Assad's departure after Syrian TV dismissed it

AFP, Friday 20 Jul 2012
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Russia's envoy to Paris said Friday he believed Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad was ready to go "in a civilised manner" but later insisted Moscow's position had not changed.

Syrian state television dismissed the remarks as "totally baseless".

In an interview with Radio France International (RFI), Ambassador Alexander Orlov said Assad had accepted a transition plan agreed by world powers in Geneva and named a representative for talks with the opposition.

"That is to say, he is accepting to go -- but to go in a civilised manner," he said.

Asked if Assad's departure was only a matter of time, Orlov said: "Personally I share your opinion. I believe it will be difficult for him to stay after everything that has happened."

But Orlov later told France's BFMTV that Assad's acceptance of the plan "means that maybe within himself he is ready to go if this would be the result of these negotiations.

"Saying now that the Russian ambassador said that the Syrian president was ready to go is completely false," he said.

"Moreover, this is the fundamental difference in the Security Council between us and our Western partners, who are precisely requiring that President Assad leave before negotiations begin."

A spokesman for the Russian embassy in Paris, Sergei Barinov, told the Interfax news agency that Orlov's comments had been "taken out of context".

"This was not the expression of a position nor of information," he said.

"There are already intepretations according to which the ambassador has exclusive information that Assad is ready to resign. There is no such thing."

In Damascus, Syrian state television also said Orlov's comments had been distorted.

"The comments attributed to the Russian ambassador to Paris on the fact that President Assad would agree to relinquish power in a civilised manner are totally baseless," the broadcaster said.

"(The comments) were distorted and the Russian ambassador did not at all say what was attributed to him," state television said, criticising the "bloodthirsty media".

In the RFI interview, Orlov also said that by vetoing UN resolutions on Syria Russia was not defending the Assad regime but principles of non-interference in internal affairs.

"We do not have any particular links with the Assad regime, with the Syrian president. But for us this is a case of principles that goes far beyond what is happening in Syria," he said.

He said Russia had done all it could to bring the regime to talks but that the West had not done the same with Syria's opposition.

"Unfortunately our Western partners... did not work sufficiently hard with the Syrian opposition to encourage them to come to the negotiating table," he said.

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