Pact must be acceptable to all citizens: Lavrov

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has appointed his Vice-President to negotiate a political settlement with the opposition, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said.

The Syrian leader “confirmed that he had delegated to Vice-President Farouk al-Sharaa the authority of holding talks with all opposition groups and set up a national dialogue that would be inclusive and involve all Syrian political forces,” Mr. Lavrov told reporters on Wednesday upon his return from Damascus.

Mr. Lavrov was responding to a question whether he had asked Mr. Assad to step down. When the reporter, unhappy with the answer, repeated his question, the Russian Foreign Minister angrily retorted: “I have answered your question, but you probably were not listening to what I said: Any outcome of national dialogue must be the result of agreement between the Syrians themselves and must be acceptable to all Syrians.”

Mr. Lavrov rejected Western criticism that the U.N. Security Council missed a chance to stop bloodshed in Syria when Russia vetoed the Arab-European resolution last week and accused the West of trying to help armed opposition to take over Syrian cities.

“We have missed an opportunity to allow armed units which are fighting against government forces to take control of cities and villages… But if the authors of the resolution had this goal in mind, then they should have directly said that they wanted the armed units to take control of cities in Syria,” he said, referring to the resolution's demand that only government forces must be pulled out of the cities.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned foreign powers against “behaving like a bull in a China shop” in the Syrian crisis. “We of course condemn all violence regardless of its source, but one cannot act like an elephant in a china shop,” Mr. Putin told Russian religious leaders on Wednesday.

“We need to allow people to decide their own fate,” he said.

Mr. Putin said “terrible crimes are being committed” in Sirte and other pro-Qadhafi cities in Libya.

“These are appalling consequences of outside interference, first of all, armed interference,” he said.

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