Moscow - Russia will "absolutely not" tell
Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down to end the civil war and make way
for a political transition, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in comments
published on Friday.
The remarks to the BBC were a reiteration of Moscow's
position that Assad's exit must not be a precondition for a negotiated solution
to the two-year-old conflict that has killed more than 70 000 people.
Asked whether there was a chance that Russia would tell
Assad he should step down for the sake of a peace agreement, Lavrov replied:
"Absolutely not. You know that we're not in the regime-change game.”
"We are against interference in domestic conflicts.
And this is our position, which should be of no surprise to anyone," he
said, according to an English-language version of his comments posted on the
Russian foreign ministry website.
Lavrov said Assad had repeatedly said he was not going to
"All those who get in touch with him know that he is
not bluffing, and that he is prepared to discuss any issue - among the
Russia has blocked three UN Security Council resolutions
meant to push Assad out or press him to end violence, a position that has set
it against Western and Arab nations which say he must leave power.
Lavrov said he saw signs of flexibility.
"I'm glad that the latest discussions and the latest
gestures from the opposition, and statements from some of those who support the
opposition, hint that they would be prepared to start negotiations with some
negotiating team without asking President Assad to step down," he was
quoted as saying.
Lavrov spoke before a visit to London next week for the
first meeting under the auspices of a new "strategic dialogue"
between Russia and Britain.
Syria is among the issues on the agenda for the talks on
Wednesday between the two countries' foreign and defence ministers.
The Kremlin and the US government have spoken recently of
the need to step up efforts to end the war and start a political transition but
several meetings - including one in London on Thursday between senior Russian
and US diplomats - have brought few signs of progress.