Russia says may be time to force Assad's foes to talk peace

MOSCOW Mon Sep 16, 2013 5:28pm IST

A Free Syrian Army fighter sits on a lookout for forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in Ogiwl, Aleppo, September 8, 2013. REUTERS/Hamid Khatib

A Free Syrian Army fighter sits on a lookout for forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in Ogiwl, Aleppo, September 8, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Hamid Khatib

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday it may be time to consider efforts to force foes of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to attend an international peace conference instead of just urging them to do so.

Lavrov also accused European countries of trying to reinterpret the agreement he reached with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry under which Syria is to give up its chemical weapons arsenal and avoid U.S. strikes.

Lavrov's remarks suggested Russia will resist any rush to threaten military intervention if Assad fails to implement the deal and that it will blame the rebels - and the West - if the agreement does not lead to a wider push to end Syria's conflict.

Lavrov and Kerry announced in May that their nations would seek to bring Syrian government and opposition representatives together at an international conference, but no date has been set and Moscow says rebel recalcitrance is the main hurdle.

"It is necessary to first convince the opposition (to attend). But maybe it's time to start using a different verb - to force the opposition to take part in the conference," Lavrov said after talks with Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy.

Lavrov took issue with what he said were calls from Europe for swift passage of a U.N. Security Council resolution under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, which can include the use of force, saying they showed a "lack of understanding" of the U.S.-Russian agreement on chemical arms.

"Our (European) partners want to again unilaterally review what we've agreed on with the Americans. That's not how you do business, and I'm sure that despite these statements that we come from European capitals, the Americans will, as proper negotiators, strictly stick to what has been agreed on."

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczysnka and Alexei Anishchuk, Writing by Steve Gutterman, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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