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Lavrov: No Secret Russia-U.S. Talks On Syria


Russian Foreign Minister In Cairo For Talks On Syria
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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says Russia and the United States never held secret discussions about regime change in Syria.

"We never conduct secret negotiations with anybody about the future of third countries," Lavrov said.

"And we have had no secret contacts with Americans or anybody else about a deal concerning the future of [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad."

Lavrov was speaking at a press conference on November 5 in Cairo. He is holding talks in a fresh effort to resolve the Syrian conflict.

Lavrov said Russia supported a negotiated solution to the conflict based on the Geneva Declaration, which was agreed in June and calls for a transitional government.

He accused Western powers of prolonging the Syrian conflict by backing the opposition.

"Some of the participants in the Geneva talks are trying to unite the opposition not on a platform of readiness for talks but on a platform of continuing armed struggle," he said.

"This means they are ready to pay the price of Syrian lives for their position, which contradicts the Geneva [agreements]."

Middle East Quartet On Syria

The Russian foreign minister also said Russia supports an Egyptian initiative to reconvene four Middle East powers to try to resolve the Syria conflict.

The Egypt-proposed talks would also involve Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey have all said Assad must leave power. Iran is an Assad ally.

Saudi Arabia sent a representative to preliminary talks in September but then failed to show up for two subsequent ministerial meetings.

On November 4, Lavrov met with Arab League head Nabil Elaraby and the joint UN-Arab League mediator on the Syrian conflict, Lakhdar Brahimi.

Lavrov stressed all parties needed to agree to negotiate based on the Geneva Declaration, which was agreed in June and calls for a transition administration, but leaves unclear what role, if any, Assad would have.

"[Russia] is trying to execute what was agreed upon in Geneva. But, with great regret, the other Western and regional countries who took part are speaking only with the Syrian opposition and are not speaking with the government," Lavrov said at a press conference following the Cairo talks.

"And they are not only speaking with them, they are encouraging them to fight in Syria and to fight until victory."

Brahimi, however, said the Geneva Declaration should be the basis for a new UN Security Council resolution, something Lavrov said was not needed.

Brahimi said there was no military solution to the conflict in Syria, which has left more than 30,000 dead, according to activists on the ground.

"The bloodshed that is taking place, the shedding of innocent blood, will not lead to victory for any of the parties," Brahimi said, sitting alongside Lavrov.

"The only thing that can take place is that either there will be a political solution, and a political process that all involved agree upon, or that Syria's future will be disastrous and that the crisis will not remain confined inside the borders of Syria, but rather will spread in all certainty to the neighboring countries and perhaps those far afield."

WATCH: Army jets bombard Syrian cities.
Army Jets Bombard Syrian Cities
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Opposition Talks

Russia, along with China, vetoed three UN Security Council draft resolutions that would have threatened sanctions on Syria.

Lavrov's tour of the Middle East comes as Syrian opposition factions are holding talks in Qatar. The talks are aimed at uniting Syria's splintered opposition.

The United States has urged the main Syrian opposition bloc, the Syrian National Council, to broaden its leadership to include representatives of the rebels' Free Syrian Army, as well as political groups and local councils in Syria.

George Sabra, spokesman for the Syrian National Council, said the opposition needed to plot strategy to quicken what they hope will be the fall of Assad.

"For us in the National Council, we have made a decision to partake in negotiations and talks with other opposition movements in order to discover the duties of the forthcoming period and the necessary role we need to play as Syrian opposition figures in order to speed up the fall of the regime and starting a new phase of transition of the country to freedom and democracy," Sabra said.

U.S. officials have long complained that the opposition disarray has held back more robust foreign involvement behind the opposition in its fight to topple Assad.

In Syria, the state-run news agency says a suicide attacker detonated a car bomb on November 5 at an army checkpoint in central Hama Province.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a suicide car bombing killed at least 50 Syrian government soldiers and fighters loyal to Assad.

Observatory head Rami Abdul Rahman said a fighter from an Al-Qaeda-inspired rebel group blew himself up near a military post.

Separately, the London-based group reported heavy fighting in Damascus.

The group said the fighting began late on November 4 and was concentrated in the southern neighborhood of Tadamon and the outskirts of the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp.

Fighters from a Palestinian radical group backed government forces.

The observatory also reported an air strike killed at least 20 rebel fighters on November 5 in the northwestern province of Idlib.

With reporting by RIA Novosti, ITAR-TASS, Interfax, Reuters, AFP, and AP
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