MOSCOW – Russia’s foreign minister says Moscow would welcome any country’s offer of a safe haven to Syrian President Bashar Assad, but underlined that Moscow itself has no intention of giving him shelter if he steps down.
Russia has repeatedly used its veto right along with China at the U.N. Security Council to protect its old ally from international sanctions, but it has increasingly sought to distance itself from Assad.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters late Friday that countries in the region he wouldn’t name had asked Russia to convey their offer of a safe passage to Assad. He said that Russia responded by telling them to go directly to Assad: “We replied: ‘What do we have to do with it? If you have such plans, you go straight to him.’ “
Asked if Moscow could offer a refuge to Assad, Lavrov responded, “Russia has publicly said that it doesn’t invite President Assad.”
“If there is anyone willing to provide him guarantees, they are welcome!” Lavrov told reporters on board a plane returning from Brussels where he attended a Russia-EU summit. “We would be the first to cross ourselves and say: “Thank God, the carnage is over! If it indeed ends the carnage, which is far from certain.”
Lavrov also said the Syrian government has pulled its chemical weapons together to one or two locations from several arsenals across the country to keep them safe.
U.S. intelligence says the regime may be readying chemical weapons and could be desperate enough to use them. Both Israel and the U.S. have also expressed concerns they could fall into militant hands if the regime crumbles.
Lavrov gave no indication that Moscow would change its opposition to sanctions against Assad.
He assailed the West for failing to persuade the opposition to sit down for peace talks with the government, saying that “the Syrian president’s head is more important for them than saving human lives.”
He added that U.N. peace envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, would visit Moscow for talks before the year’s end.