Calling Assad illegitimate is "counterproductive": Russia

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 16, 2012 5:13 AM

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Statements from Western and Arab countries that President Bashar al-Assad's rule is illegitimate are counterproductive to establishing peace in Syria, Russia's envoy to the Middle East said on Friday.

"The Syrian people should determine who will lead their country and so the opinion of some of our foreign partners will hardly foster a solution," Mikhail Bogdanov, a deputy foreign minister, told a news conference.

He said declarations from other countries about Assad's illegitimacy and calls for him to step down "are counterproductive because they send the opposition a false signal that there is no sense in entering dialogue".

The United States and other Western and Arab countries have said that Assad's use of violence against his own people shows he is no longer fit to rule.

Russia, which has a naval base in Syria and is Damascus's top seller of arms, has vetoed two U.N. Security Council resolutions aimed at isolating the leader and has urged dialogue between the government and the opposition.

Bogdanov criticized nations that have closed embassies or cut diplomatic ties with Syria, saying the authorities are one of the sides in the conflict and "maintaining links and contacts with them is an absolutely necessary condition" for seeking a solution.

He reiterated Russia's calls for an immediate end to violence by government forces and their opponents, a monitoring mechanism to ensure no side used a ceasefire to its own advantage, and the swift start of a dialogue between the government and opponents with no preconditions or "predetermined outcomes" such as Assad's exit from power.

(Reporting by Steve Gutterman, Writing by Thomas Grove, Edited by Richard Meares)