Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (centre) with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif (left), and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al Muallem in Moscow yesterday.
MOSCOW: Russia yesterday denied harbouring a “hidden agenda” on Syria as it launched a fresh round of crisis diplomacy with top Syrian and Iranian diplomats ahead of historic peace talks.
The three allies’ foreign ministers huddled in a mansion in Moscow to devise a joint stance that would ease the pressure off President Bashar Al Assad to step down when the Syrian peace talks open next week in Switzerland after months of delays.
“This does not mean that we have some tri-party (peace) draft,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters at a joint press appearance with Iran’s Mohammad Javad Zarif.
“We have nothing to hide. We have no hidden agenda,” said Lavrov before he and Zarif joined Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem for more discussions.
Zarif also visited President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin to discuss curbs on Tehran’s nuclear programme and the possible purchase of missiles that could fend off air strikes by its arch-foe Israel.
As the so-called Geneva II conference is set to open on Wednesday, Moscow wants to convince Washington to accept Tehran’s presence at the peace talks in order to bolster its efforts to keep Assad in power and curb the future influence of his foes. After 34 months of fighting the Syrian conflict has killed around 130,000 people and displaced millions more.
“We expect (Geneva II) to include all parties that are capable of making a positive contribution to settling the conflict,” Putin told a Kremlin awards ceremony prior to his meeting with the Iranian diplomat.
Zarif said only that Iran would attend the Swiss meetings “if we are invited”.
But the Russian foreign ministry also stressed that the talks should be “based on the provisions of the (June 2012) Geneva Communique” — a document Iran rejected because it paved the way for a transitional government that could potentially replace Assad.
The United States says Iran must sign up to the accord before it can formally join the talks, while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said no final decision had been reached on the Islamic republic’s involvement.
But Zarif said Iran would only attend the Swiss conference “without preconditions”.
Analysts said Moscow and Tehran are now trying to draw up their own post-war plan that is based on Washington’s growing anxiety about the presence of Al Qaeda sympathisers in Syrian rebel ranks.
“A large part of these negotiations are focused on what happens after Geneva II,” said Alexander Konovalov of Moscow’s Institute for Strategic Assessment.
The Kremlin appears to hold strong leverage over the Islamic republic because of Iran’s desire to purchase Russian missiles and other high-tech arms.