MOSCOW – Russia’s foreign minister said Saturday that Syrian President Bashar Assad has no intention of stepping down and it would be impossible to try to persuade him otherwise.
After a meeting with Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N.’s envoy for the Syrian crisis, Sergey Lavrov also said that the Syrian opposition risks sacrificing many more lives if it continues to insist on Assad leaving office as a precondition for holding talks on Syria’s future.
Assad “has repeatedly said publicly and privately, including in his meeting with Lakhdar Brahimi in Damascus not long ago, that he does not intend to leave for anywhere, that he will stay to the end in his post, that he will, as he expressed it, defend the Syrian people, Syrian sovereignty and so forth,” Lavrov said. “There’s no possibility to change this position.”
Brahimi warned that the country’s civil war could plunge the entire region into chaos by sending hundreds of thousands of refugees into neighboring nations, but his talks in Moscow produced no sign of progress toward settling the crisis.
Brahimi and Lavrov both said after their meeting that the 21-month-old Syrian conflict can only be settled through talks, while admitting that the parties in the conflict have shown no desire for compromise.
Neither official hinted at a possible solution that would persuade the Syrian government and the opposition to agree to a cease-fire and sit down for talks about a political transition.
Brahimi, who arrived in Moscow on a one-day trip following his talks in Damascus with Assad last week, voiced concern about the escalation of the conflict, which he said is becoming “more and more sectarian.”
The envoy warned that “if you have a panic in Damascus and if you have 1 million people leaving Damascus in a panic, they can go to only two places — Lebanon and Jordan,” and those countries may not be able to endure half a million refugees each.
Brahimi said that “if the only alternative is really hell or a political process, then we have got all of us to work ceaselessly for a political process.”
Russia has been the main supporter of Assad’s regime since the uprising began in March 2011, using its veto at the U.N. Security Council along with China to shield its last Mideast ally from international sanctions.
Lavrov said Russia would continue to oppose any U.N. resolution that would call for international sanctions against Assad and open the way for a foreign intervention in Syria. And he added that Moscow continues to believe the opposition demand for Assad’s resignation as a precondition for peace talks is “counterproductive.”
“The price for that precondition will be the loss of more Syrian lives,” Lavrov said.
Both Brahimi and Lavrov insisted that efforts to end the civil war must be based on a peace plan that was approved at an international conference in Geneva in June.
The Geneva plan calls for an open-ended cease-fire, a transitional government to run the country until elections, and the drafting of a new constitution. But it was a non-starter with the opposition because Russia insisted that the plan leave the door open for Assad being part of the transition process and the fact that it didn’t mention possible U.N. sanctions.