Russia, UN Call for Urgent Conference on Syria
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Russia agreed on Friday that a peace conference on Syria should be held "as soon as possible", even as Moscow defied growing global pressure over its arms supplies to the Damascus regime.
AFP reported that Ban met Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov before starting talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin about an impending international meeting on Syria, that should include representatives of the two warring parties for the first time.
"There are high expectations and the meeting should be held as soon as possible," Ban told reporters alongside Lavrov.
Russia's top diplomat added, "The sooner this conference is held, the better."
But Lavrov still cautioned that it was too early to name the date of the Geneva meeting -- now expected for the first half of June -- because the actual makeup of the Syrian delegations had not yet been set.
"We have to come up with a decision about the Syrian delegations and the group of this conference's participants," Lavrov said, according to AFP. "Nothing is possible without this."
The new talks are meant to include both the fiercest rebels and members of the regime -- a difficulty considering some opposition members' refusal to recognize Assad as a negotiating partner.
Moscow is also calling for the inclusion on this occasion of its trading partner Iran and U.S. ally Saudi Arabia as a counterweight.
Putin later told Ban that he expected the United Nations to play the decisive role in this and all other international disputes.
"Today we (Russia), as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, are defending the UN's central role in international affairs," Putin told Ban in televised comments in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, according to AFP.
The Geneva talks were agreed during a May 7 visit to Moscow by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and are seen as a rare joint peace push by the two former Cold War rivals some 26 months into the Syrian war.
On Thursday, Lavrov indicated that despite Israel’s objection, Russia would go ahead with selling S-300 advanced missile systems to Syria.
Speaking to the Lebanese-based Al-Mayadeen television, which is close to the Hizbullah terror group, Lavrov said that Russia is “committed to the agreements” signed with Syria regarding the advanced missiles and will “fully carry them out.”
As he has said previously, Lavrov reiterated that Russia does not intend to sign new agreements with Syria for the sale of weapons, but explained that since the S-300 deal was signed before the outbreak of the civil war in Syria, Russia intends to carry it out as planned.
"We have no intention of breaking international law," Lavrov explained. "However, we do not want our reputation as reliable suppliers of weapons to be affected."
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu urged Putin in Sochi on Tuesday not to follow through with Russia's decision to ship the powerful surface-to-air missiles, that can take out fighter jets.
The New York Times reported on Friday that Russia had also sent the regime a new batch of upgraded Yakhont anti-ship missile systems that would make a shipping embargo of Syria much more difficult to enforce.
The report prompted Justice Minister Tzipi Livni to note that "the transfer of arms to Syria is clearly not positive and does not contribute to the stability of the region."
Lavrov countered on Friday that Moscow did not see the reason for the international uproar created by its continuing arms supplies to Assad.
“I do not understand why the media is trying to create a sensation out of this," he said, according to AFP.
Lavrov argued that Russia only supplied defensive weapons that could not alter the outcome of a conflict that a Syrian observer group said has claimed nearly 95,000 lives.
"This does not in any way alter the balance of forces in this region or give any advantage in the fight against the opposition," Lavrov claimed.
(Arutz Sheva’s North American Desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)