MOSCOW — Russia Thursday dampened hopes of a diplomatic breakthrough in efforts to end the Syria conflict, saying it opposed solutions from the outside and Syrians should decide the fate of President Bashar al-Assad.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said world powers had yet to agree any final resolution based on new proposals from UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan for an international conference on Saturday in Geneva.
He did not say if Moscow supported the new proposals laid out by Annan, which diplomats said involved setting up a Syrian transitional government that could include followers of Assad and opposition members.
Lavrov also said it was a mistake to exclude Syria's ally Iran from Saturday's crunch meeting of world and regional powers aimed at ending violence that has now left over 15,000 dead.
Assad's fate "must be decided within the framework of a Syrian dialogue by the Syrian people themselves," Lavrov told a news conference with his Tunisian counterpart.
"Foreign players should not be dictating their solutions to the Syrians. We do not and cannot support any intervention or solutions dictated from abroad," he said.
Diplomats at the United Nations in New York had said that world powers generally back Annan's plan to set up a Syrian transitional government in a bid to end the country's 16-month conflict
But Lavrov was more cautious: "There are no agreed drafts. Work on a possible final document continues," he said.
He also complained bitterly that "individual working formulas" had been leaked to the press by diplomats overnight. "I view this as a manifestation of an unfair approach to diplomacy."
Lavrov agreed that changes and reforms were much needed in Syria, saying: "We support changes which work towards national agreement on all questions of overdue reform".
He said that a transitional period for these changes was clearly necessary but did not go into detail about what this might involve.
"It is clearly the case that a transitional period is required to overcome the Syrian crisis and finally establish stable, generally-accepted rules and norms that suit all groups of the Syrian population," he said.
Russia has annoyed the West throughout the Syrian crisis by refusing to call for the exit of Assad, its last remaining ally in the Arab world. It has also defied pressure to stop delivering military hardware to his regime.
Adding to the existing tensions with the West, Lavrov said it was a mistake to exclude Iran from the Geneva talks and accused the United States of "double standards" in opposing Tehran's attendance.
"Iran is an influential player in this situation and to leave it out of the Geneva meeting, I believe, is a mistake," Lavrov said, noting that Washington had agreed in the past to Iran joining talks on Iraq and Afghanistan.
"When the Americans needed to decide certain issues involving the security of their contingents in Iraq and Afghanistan, they initiated contact with Iran without wavering and agreed to something," Lavrov said.
US officials have conceded Iran's influence over Syria while arguing that it had shown no good will thus far that could help support a political transition period backed by both regional players and the armed opposition.
Lavrov, who earlier this week had said he would still go Geneva even if Iran was not invited, confirmed that Russia would still be attending the conference despite Moscow's irritation.
"In contrast to some of our partners, we are not capricious people," Lavrov said. "We will go to the Geneva meeting, irrespective of what the final list of participants is."
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