U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has warned the sale of sophisticated surface-to-air Russian missiles to Syria would be "potentially destabilizing" for the region.
Kerry, who was speaking in Rome after talks with Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino, was reacting to a report on May 8 in "The Wall Street Journal" that said Israel had warned Washington that Russia planned to sell S-300 missile batteries to Syria.
But Kerry refused to point fingers at Russia, saying it was "counterproductive" at a time the two countries were trying to promote a peace conference.
"I had my say with [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin and I had my say with [Russian Foreign Minister] Sergei Lavrov and we made an agreement to go to a negotiation in the next days, and I am not going to get into -- here, now, at this moment -- as I said, distinguishing features between one country's aid and another country's aid [for Syria] and who is doing what," Kerry said. "That would be counterproductive to what we are trying to accomplish. I think we have made it crystal clear [that] we would prefer that Russia was not supplying assistance [to the Syrian government] -- that is on record, that hasn't changed -- but I am not going to get into the qualitative differences at this moment."
S-300 batteries can take out aircraft or guided missiles and would enhance the Syrian government's defensive ability, making it harder for the United States and other governments to consider the possibility of trying to enforce a no-fly zone in the country.
Even before Syria's 2011 uprising, the Israelis warned about a sale of S-300 batteries. Moscow had held off on the deal under persistent U.S. and Israeli pressure.
The S-300 would be a state-of-the-art upgrade for Syria's aging Soviet-supplied defense system, which was easily circumvented in 2007 when Israeli jets bombed a suspected nuclear reactor site along the Euphrates River in northeastern Syria.
Syria has been a close military ally of Moscow for decades, and Russia has blocked international efforts to isolate President Bashar al-Assad's regime over its brutal crackdown on a two-year-old revolt.
The Syrian Foreign Ministry meanwhile welcomed the proposal from Russia and the United States to arrange a conference on ending the conflict.
Based on reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters