Assad's ouster 'unacceptable' as Syria peace precondition: Russia

AFP , Monday 17 Aug 2015

Bashar al-Assad
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (Reuters)

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday insisted Moscow did not accept the departure of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a prerequisite for launching any peace process in the war-torn country.

Russia -- one of Assad's few remaining allies along with Iran -- has launched a fresh diplomatic push to find a way out of the four-year civil war that has cost some 240,000 lives.

Russia's top diplomat met his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif in Moscow on Monday to discuss Syria along with other issues including the July deal over Tehran's nuclear programme.

The visit came after Lavrov last week hosted Saudi Arabia's foreign minister and representatives of the Syrian opposition, who all insisted Assad must go.

"While some of our partners believe that it is necessary to agree in advance that at the end of the transitional period the president will leave his post, this position is unacceptable for Russia," Lavrov said after meeting Zarif, without specifying who he was talking about.

Lavrov said Russia's position "has not changed" on Syria and a solution to the conflict should come "without outside interference or any kinds of preconditions".

Moscow is also pushing a plan for a broader grouping than the current US-led coalition to fight the Islamic State (IS) group, to include Syria's government and its allies, but Assad's opponents have rejected the idea.

The head of Syria's main opposition National Coalition group Khaled Khoja claimed Friday after meeting Lavrov that Moscow is "not clinging to Bashar al-Assad".

Russian officials insisted Moscow's position all along was not to support him personally but back him as "the legitimately elected president."

The opposition believes that Assad must step down immediately for there to be any hope of reconciliation.

Amid the diplomatic flurry, the atrocious situation on the ground in Syria took a further grim turn over the weekend as regime airstrikes in a rebel-held town outside Damascus killed nearly 100.

The United Nation's Syria envoy, Staffan de Mistura, on Monday condemned the bombings as "unacceptable".

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