Russia denies discussing Syria's post-Assad future
Russia's foreign minister said Friday that Moscow isn't discussing Syria's future without President Bashar Assad as Washington has claimed, in the latest volley in a contentious back-and-forth on how to end the bloody conflict.
Sergey Lavrov denied Thursday's statement by U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland that Moscow and Washington "are continuing to talk about a post-Assad transition strategy."
Lavrov, who met with the State Department's No. 2 official William Burns in Kabul on Thursday, maintained that Russia believes it's up to the Syrians to determine their country's future and said foreign players shouldn't meddle.
"It's not true that we are discussing Syria's fate after Bashar Assad," Lavrov said following talks in Moscow with his Iraqi counterpart. "We aren't dealing with a regime change either through approving unilateral actions at the United Nations Security Council nor through taking part in some political conspiracies."
In Washington, a senior White House foreign policy aide had tough words for Russia, especially on the question of whether Assad could remain in power.
"President Putin clearly is somebody who can articulate where he has differences with the United States. But we can also articulate where we have differences with Russia," deputy U.S. national security adviser Ben Rhodes said.
The United States is not trying to end Russian influence in Syria, Rhodes said, and has appealed to Russia for help brokering an end to Assad's rule.
"We've been working to get the Russians to come in line with, frankly, the broad international community," Rhodes said. "This is not just an issue between the United States and Russia."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has issued increasingly harsh words over Russia's refusal to take tougher measures on Syria, though her accusation that Russia "dramatically" escalated the crisis in Syria lost steam Thursday when the State Department acknowledged the helicopters she accused Moscow of sending were actually refurbished ones already owned by the Assad regime.