Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said Western nations, including the United States and France, are undermining efforts to convene an international peace conference next month on Syria.
Lavrov’s remarks in Paris on May 28 came a day after the European Union agreed to allow parts of an arms embargo against Syria to expire -- clearing the way for possible future weapons shipments to opposition fighters there.
Lavrov said the EU decision is illegitimate and violates international law.
Earlier on May 28, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov accused the EU of setting "double standards" by leaving in place all of its sanctions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
"The European Union in fact is pouring more fuel on the fire of this conflict and damaging the prospects for convening a conference for political settlement in Syria, the success of which the EU should have been very interested in."
Ryabkov also defended Russian deliveries of S-300 antiaircraft missiles to Assad’s regime, saying they play a “stabilizing role” against foreign intervention.
Lavrov also told journalists in Paris that it is imperative for Iran to join the U.S. and Russia-backed proposal for a peace conference on Syria, despite reservations against such a move by Western countries.
U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell responded in Washington to Lavrov’s remarks by saying Washington supports the easing of the EU arms embargo against Syrian rebels as "part of the international community’s efforts to demonstrate its full support for the Syrian opposition."
Ventrell criticized "all classes of weapons" that Russia is supplying to Assad’s regime.
"We've seen how the regime uses those arms," he said. "When we're talking about the opposition, that's a different group and clearly they are people who are defending themselves in the face of an enormous onslaught and a despicable onslaught of violence against them."
In Jerusalem, Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said the Russian antiaircraft system destined for Syria has not left Russia yet, adding that his country "will know what to do" if it does.
A spokesman for Syria's opposition National Coalition described the lifting of EU sanctions as a "positive step." But Louay Safi said the opposition is "afraid it could be too little, too late."
The embargo faced by opposition forces officially expires at the end of May.
The EU said it will review the weapons question again before August “in light of fresh developments to end the conflict including the ongoing U.S.-Russia peace initiative.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Lavrov met on in Paris on May 27 to discuss the proposed peace conference.
Lavrov said organizing the conference to bring together Syria’s warring parties has been a "tall order."
With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and dpa