Russian FM in Syria for talks with Assad

February 7, 2012 - 18:6
Thousands of Syrians turned up in Damascus on Tuesday to welcome Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. 
On February 4, Russia and China vetoed a West-Arab backed draft resolution against Syria at the United Nations Security Council.
Lavrov met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and other high-ranking officials and discussed the law and order situation in the Middle Eastern country. 
The draft, presented to the Security Council by Morocco, initially supported an Arab League plan that called on President Assad to resign and hand over power to a deputy to form a national unity government “with the opposition within two months.”
Assad thanked the Russian foreign minister for his country’s principled stance on Syrian issues.
Lavrov, whose government wields unique leverage as a major arms supplier with long-standing political ties to Damascus, told Assad it was in Russia's interest for "Arab peoples to live in peace and agreement," the RIA news agency said.
He also affirmed Russia's "readiness to help foster the swiftest exit from the crisis on the basis of positions set out in the Arab League initiative," according to Interfax.
Russia has supported an Arab League peace proposal for Syria floated last November envisaging a withdrawal of troops from cities and towns, release of prisoners, and reforms. But there was no indication from Lavrov's quoted remarks that Russia was now backing the League's explicit call on Assad to step down.
Lavrov said Assad assured him he was committed to halting violence by both sides and that he was ready to seek dialogue with all political groups in the country.
Russia's foreign ministry said Lavrov and Foreign Intelligence Service chief Mikhail Fradkov had gone to Damascus because Moscow wanted to see "the swiftest stabilization of the situation in Syria on the basis of the swiftest implementation of democratic reforms whose time has come."
Syrian state television showed thousands of people gathering on a main Damascus highway to welcome Lavrov. They were waving Syrian, Russian and Hezbollah flags and held up two Russian flags made out of hundreds of red, white and blue balloons.
Syrian state television said a committee charged with drawing up a new Syrian constitution - one of several political reforms promised by Assad - had completed its work on Tuesday.
Assad has said parliamentary elections will be held when the constitution is approved, but has also pledged to eradicate "terrorists" he associates with the violence.