Russia says it won't push Assad to leave Syria
BY PATRICK J. MCDONNELL Los Angeles Times
Monday, December 10, 2012
12/10/12 at 5:34 AM
Russia said Sunday it has no intention of pushing for the ouster of President Bashar Assad, as international negotiators seeking a way out of the escalating Syrian crisis again failed to reach a breakthrough.
Meantime, the Syria turmoil continued to spill over its borders, as four more people were killed in the latest spasm of Syria-related violence in the tense northern Lebanese city of Tripoli.
And inside Syria, another day of fierce clashes and government bombardment was reported in the suburbs of Damascus as government troops battled rebels intent on cutting off the capital and its international airport.
Violence in Syria has long been outpacing efforts to reach a diplomatic solution. International mediators have stepped up efforts to broker a peace in recent days as clashes have intensified and fears have risen about the government's potential use of chemical weapons on its own citizens.
Diplomats fear Syria's turbulence could eventually suck in Lebanon, with its weak central government and history of sectarian warfare, and also destabilize other adjacent nations, including Turkey, Jordan and Iraq. More than 500,000 refugees have already fled into neighboring nations, taxing the countries' ability to care for the influx.
The sense that Assad's rule is weakening amid rebel gains has prompted speculation that Moscow - which has on three occasions blocked proposed United Nations actions against Assad - was finally willing to tell its longtime ally that it was time for him to go. U.S. and Russian talks in Dublin last week with the U.N.'s Syrian envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, added fuel to the speculation.
But Russian Foreign Minster Sergei Lavrov made it clear Sunday that Moscow had not soured on the Syrian leader.
"We are not conducting any negotiations on the fate of Assad," Lavrov told reporters in Moscow. "All attempts to portray things differently are unscrupulous, even for diplomats of those countries which are known to try to distort the facts in their favor."
The latter comment seemed aimed at Western officials who had hinted that Moscow was ready to help expedite Assad's departure after almost 21 months of civil conflict, tens of thousands of deaths and vast infrastructure damage.
Russia has said it is not wedded to Assad holding on to power, but insists that Syria's fate must be decided through negotiations among Syrians.
Russia downplayed White House fears that a desperate Assad could deploy chemical weapons and said the greatest danger was that part of Syria's chemical arsenal could fall into the hands of rebels.
Original Print Headline: Russia won't push Assad out
Syrian children warm themselves at a refugee camp near the Turkish border, in Azaz, Syria, on Sunday, as cold weather sets in. About 500,000 refugees have fled the fighting in Syria. MANU BRABO / Associated Press