Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held his first direct talks with Syria's opposition leader in Germany yesterday, amid a renewed global push to iron out sharp differences over how to end the conflict in Syria.
The meeting did not include US Vice President Joe Biden or UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, Russian news agencies said, despite suggestions that four-way talks might be held as all are in Germany for the high-level Munich Security Conference.
The reports, quoting a diplomatic source, did not give details about what Lavrov and Moaz al-Khatib discussed in their brief meeting. The rare talks came after Biden told the conference that the United States was pushing to help strengthen the opposition, insisting Syria's embattled President Bashar al-Assad was a "tyrant" and must go.
Biden said it was "no secret" that Moscow and Washington have "serious differences" on issues like Syria, as fears mount that the 23-month conflict will draw in neighbouring states.
"We can all agree ... on the increasingly desperate plight of the Syrian people and the responsibility of the international community to address that plight," he added.
The United States and its allies have made repeated calls for Assad's removal, while key Damascus ally Russia has resisted any international action. Biden was to hold separate meetings with Lavrov, Khatib and Brahimi on the sidelines of the weekend conference.
Lavrov, whose country has blocked three UN Security Council resolutions sanctioning Assad for the violence, called for another meeting of the Syrian action group led by Brahimi in an attempt to find an accord on a transition, saying he believed progress was possible.
Russia's top diplomat also said Moscow shared Washington's concern about the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria. "I think that this [the use of chemical weapons] is a 'red line' for everyone," he said.
Meanwhile, a senior Iranian official visiting Damascus reiterated that his country strongly backed the Syrian regime.
"We will give all our support so that Syria remains firm and able to face all the arrogant [Western powers'] conspiracies," Saeed Jalili, who heads the Supreme National Security Council, was quoted as saying on Syrian state television.