Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday that his country could not join the U.S.-led coalition battling Islamic State in Syria because it was illegal and was built on "false foundations."
Lavrov said the U.S. and its allies should not reject cooperation with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, contending that Assad "commands the most capable ground force fighting terrorism."
"Our partners have a choice: either to continue persisting in the idea that only President al-Assad going will save the region from the threat of terrorism ... or to start cooperating after all with all those who are genuinely interested in preventing the breakup of this historically inestimable region," Lavrov said.
The White House on Thursday repeated its long-standing assertion that the Assad government was responsible for the disaster in Syria and the growth of Islamic State. The Obama administration has said Assad can have no part in Syria's future and that backing him is a "losing bet."
The U.S. says it is concerned about the arrival of Russian military equipment and advisers to a Syrian air base over the last few weeks.
Secretary of State John Kerry said this week that the U.S. was considering Russia's offer of military-to-military talks on the war in Syria. The Kremlin has said its focus in Syria is destroying Islamic State, and that it is up to the Syrian people to decide what to do about Assad.
Kerry says he still wants a "complete and clear understanding" of what Russia's intentions are. But he has warned Lavrov that an increased Russian military presence in Syria with the intent of propping up Assad would make the war worse and undermine the fight against extremists.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mualem said Thursday that there were no Russian soldiers fighting next to Syrian troops. But he said Syria would not hesitate to ask for Russian help if it were needed.