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Moscow Declines to Attend Meeting on Syria


A demonstrator holds a Syrian national flag with a portrait of Syrian President Assad during a rally in support of Syria in front of the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow, Feb. 16, 2012.

A demonstrator holds a Syrian national flag with a portrait of Syrian President Assad during a rally in support of Syria in front of the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow, Feb. 16, 2012.

Russia says it will not attend an upcoming international meeting to discuss the ongoing violence in Syria. A Kremlin spokesman says it is because the Syrian government will not be in attendance.

Instead, Moscow is urging the United Nations to send a special envoy to Syria to help coordinate security issues and the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

Backed by Western powers and the Arab league, a coalition known as the "Friends of Syria" say they are planning an international meeting in an effort to reach agreement on how to stop the violence in Syria. The group, slated to meet in Tunisia later this week, is also expected to call for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

Alexander Lukashevich, a spokesman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, says Moscow will not attend the conference because all parties involved in the conflict will not be present.

Lukashevich says separate groups of the Syrian opposition have been called to Tunisia, but that representatives of the Syrian government have not been invited to the conference. Lukashevich says this means that the interests of a large part of the Syrian population, which support the authorities, will not be represented.

Moscow has consistently maintained that in order for peace to occur, dialogue with both parties is necessary.

Russia issued another call for the United States, Europe and the Arab League to urge both sides of the conflict to the negotiating table, without preconditions, in an effort to help them decide on reforms. Kremlin spokesman Lukashevich says this is not a time for any country to be seen as taking sides in the conflict.

He says Russia is for all members of the international community to appear as friends of all the Syrian people, not just a part of it.

Lukashevich added that once reforms are implemented, it will be possible for Russia to send humanitarian aid to Syria, pending certain conditions.

Earlier this month, Russia vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution, supported by the Arab League and Western powers. The measure called for Syria's President Assad to cede power. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called the resolution one-sided. China also vetoed the measure.

Russia has been an ally of Syria since Soviet times. It sells arms to the country and hosts a naval base there.


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