Russia regrets US postponing meeting on Syria

AFP , Tuesday 27 Aug 2013

As the international community is on verge on considering military action in Syria, Moscow and Washington cancel meeting in The Hague to discuss organizing a crisis-resolving Geneva peace conference

Russia on Tuesday said it regretted a decision by the United States to shelve a meeting on the Syria crisis this week, as expectations mount of military action against the Damascus regime.

The scrapping of the planned meeting in The Hague is the latest sign of a new peak in tensions between Moscow and the West over the possibility of military strikes against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

"It arouses regret that our partners decided to cancel the bilateral meeting" involving senior diplomats from both sides, Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov wrote on Twitter.

He added such talks would have been particularly useful at a time "when military action is hanging over this country".

Western countries including the United States are considering their response to an alleged chemical weapons attack by Assad's regime on 21 August.

In a new diplomatic feud between Moscow and the West, Russia has said it believes rebels were behind the incident and has warned any military action without UN approval would violate international law.

US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Ambassador Robert Ford were due to meet with a Russian delegation in The Hague to discuss progress towards organising a peace conference on Syria.

A senior US State Department official said that the sides would work to "reschedule" the meeting although Gatilov said the encounter had simply been cancelled.

"Working out the parameters of a political solution in Syria would have been especially helpful right now, when military action is hanging over this country," Gatilov said on Twitter.

The comments came a day after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov condemned the "hysteria" over the claimed chemical attack and said Western countries have yet to come up with any proof that the Assad regime was behind it.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told British Prime Minister David Cameron in a telephone call on Monday that there was no evidence yet that the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons against rebels, Cameron's office said.

Pro-Kremlin Russian newspaper Izvestia on Monday published an interview with Assad who ridiculed as "nonsense" the idea that his regime used chemical weapons and warned the United States of failure if it attacked Syria.

Russia and the United States have since May been seeking to organise a peace conference in Geneva bringing together both the regime and the rebels at the negotiating table.

However the conference has been repeatedly put back and the renewed tensions between Russia and the West over Syria have dealt a further blow to the chances of it ever taking place.

Russian officials are now comparing the possible use of force against Syria to the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, which was vehemently opposed by Moscow as based on flawed intelligence that Saddam Hussein's regime possessed weapons of mass destruction.

"Deja-vu," Alexei Pushkov, the head of the Russian parliament's foreign affairs committee wrote on Twitter.

"It feels like in the White House it's still (George W.) Bush, (Dick) Cheney and (Donald) Rumsfeld and in Downing Street Tony Blair," he said, referring to the former US president, vice president, defence secretary and British premier during the Iraq war.

"The faces change. But not the politics," he added.

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