The United States has acknowledged that Russia did not violate any law by transferring cargo in the Damascus-bound civilian flight from Moscow, which was forced to land by Turkey in Ankara on Wednesday.
During the course of an extended back-and-forth between a reporter and spokesperson Victoria Nuland at a regular State Department briefing, the U.S. official agreed that the movement of material by Russia, part of which was confiscated by Turkey, on board the Syrian aircraft was not illegal. However, Moscow’s policy toward Syria was “morally bankrupt”.
Asked specifically whether the incident was a “violation of anything”, Ms. Nuland said: “No. But everybody else on the Security Council is doing what it can unilaterally to ensure that the Assad regime is not getting support from the outside.”
On his part, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated during the course of a televised appearance on Friday that the Syrian plane was only transporting electronic components for a radar station, which was in accordance with international agreements.
“We have no secrets,” said the Minister. “We have studied the situation: there were no weapons on this airplane, of course, and there could not be. On the airplane there was cargo, which a legal Russian shipper sent via legal means to a legal customer.”
Mr. Lavrov’s observations countered the assertion by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who alleged on Thursday that the Syrian plane was carrying military equipment and ammunition for the Syrian government.
In a quick-fire refutation bereft of diplomatic niceties, the Syrian government fiercely denied Mr. Erdogan’s assertion. “The Turkish Prime Minister continues to lie in order to justify his government’s hostile attitude towards Syria,” said the Syrian Foreign Ministry in a statement.
“The plane’s cargo was documented in detail on the bill of loading and the plane did not carry any illegal material or any weapons,” it said. Sparks have continued to fly between Turkey and Syria, which has banned Turkish airline flights from its airspace following Wednesday’s incident. SANA, the state-run Syrian news agency conveyed the government’s decision via text messages late on Saturday.
With the precipitous decline in the Syria-Turkey relationship, Iran on Sunday reiterated its aspiration to meditate between the two to defuse the escalating crisis. “We are closely following the tension between Turkey and Syria and advise the officials of the two countries to defuse the tension at the earliest,” said Ramin Mehmanparast, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, on Saturday at a press conference in Astana, Kazakhstan’s capital. He added that Iran would do its best to restore stability and security in the region.