Russia has said it has made significant headway in defusing the crisis in Syria following the air dash to Damascus by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for talks with Syrian President Bashar Al Assad that could end bloodshed following an externally supervised internal dialogue.
“We have had a very productive visit with the leadership of Syria,” said Mr. Lavrov, according to Russia's RIA Novosti news service. “We have confirmed our preparedness to facilitate a rapid end to the crisis based on the positions set out in the Arab League initiative.
In particular, the President of Syria gave assurance that he is fully committed ‘to an end to violence, no matter its source'.”
Significantly, Mr. Lavrov also said Mr. Assad was ready to sit down with the opposition for a political dialogue.
“It is clear that efforts for ending the violence should be accompanied by dialogue between political forces,” he said. “Today we received confirmation from the President of Syria that he is prepared to cooperate in this effort.” Mr. Lavrov was in the Syrian capital after Russia and China on Saturday vetoed a U.N. Security Council that sought the exit of Mr. Assad from the Presidency and called for the formation of a national unity government to steer Syria's transition to democracy.
Russia has maintained that if passed, the U.N. resolution would have breached Syrian sovereignty and led to the unacceptable situation of “regime change”.
After Tuesday's talks with Mr. Assad, which followed furious criticism by western powers that the double veto at the U.N. would only encourage further bloodshed, the Russians seemed to suggest on Tuesday that the heavy condemnation of their action in New York might have been ill-conceived. Russian Television is reporting that Moscow is now set to end violence in Syria by facilitating talks between the government and the opposition. Sketching the faint lines of a mechanism for a dialogue, Mr. Lavrov proposed that Russia would continue to work with various Syrian political groups to prevent further civilian deaths.
He stressed that Moscow was not keen to impose itself unilaterally, and that the role of the Arab League, which included sending its observers to all crisis zones, would be absolutely essential to pull back Syria from the brink. “Syria is notifying the Arab League that it is interested in the League continuing its work and increasing the number of observers,” Mr. Lavrov said.
In response to Mr. Lavrov's assertions, the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) signalled that it was, at this moment, not opposed to the Russian initiative. Russian media is quoting George Sabra, a senior SNC member as saying, “Considering the good relations between the Russian and Syrian nations, Russia has a good chance of playing this part.”
Ahead of the Russian Minister's visit, British Foreign Secretary condemned the Syrian regime as “murderous and doomed,” while, the Americans citing security considerations, closed down their embassy in Damascus.
Seemingly aware that the Russians, by casting a veto had thrown them a lifeline, Syrian authorities earlier on Tuesday gave Mr. Lavrov a rousing welcome as he arrived in Damascus. Thousands of government supporters, waving Syrian and Russian flags lined the highway along which passed the motorcade of the visiting delegation, which, besides Mr. Lavrov included the Russian foreign intelligence chief, Mikhail Fradkov.