Lavrov urges ‘responsible states’ to back Syria talks

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged all “responsible countries” to act to ensure a Syrian peace conference achieves positive results, in remarks made in Iran on Wednesday.

Iran and Russia back President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in the Syrian conflict, which is estimated to have killed almost 126,000 people over nearly three years.

Lavrov arrived in Tehran late Tuesday for talks officials said would focus on the Syria peace conference dubbed Geneva 2 set for January 22, as well as bilateral ties and Iran’s landmark nuclear deal with world powers.

He was to meet President Hassan Rowhani later Wednesday, Iran’s foreign ministry said.

“All responsible countries must do something so that Geneva 2 achieves a positive result,” Lavrov said at a joint news conference with his counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif.

“Those who are against (such a result) show a lack of commitment faced with the demands of the international community.”

Lavrov repeatedly called Iran a “key player” that could help resolve the Syrian conflict and should be invited to Geneva.

The Syrian regime and the opposition have stated their willingness to attend Geneva 2, but they differ on how the transition of power and on officials from Iran and Saudi Arabia, which backs the rebels, attending the talks.

Damascus says Assad will stay on as president and lead any transition agreed at the conference.

But the opposition and rebels reject Iranian attendance at the conference and insist Assad has no role in any transition.

Zarif repeated that Iran was ready to go to Geneva but “without precondition”, and said the conflict should be solved by the Syrian people.

On Russian arms sales to Iran, Zarif was asked whether Tehran would consider alternatives to the S-300 missile system it has ordered.

“We still insist on the implementation of the previous agreements” with Moscow, he replied, adding that “a mutually acceptable solution” would be found.

In 2007, Russia signed a contract to supply Iran with five of the advanced S-300 ground-to-air systems - which can take out aircraft or guided missiles - at a cost of $800 million.

In 2010, Russia’s then president Dmitry Medvedev cancelled the contract after coming under US and Israeli pressure.

Tehran then lodged a lawsuit at an international court in Geneva against Russia’s arms export agency.

Lavrov’s two-day visit comes after Iran and the P5+1 -- the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia plus Germany -- agreed an interim nuclear deal on November 24.

Under the Geneva accord, Iran agreed to freeze or curb some of its controversial nuclear activities in return for limited relief from crippling Western sanctions.

Zarif said Iran and Russia were closely cooperating to “form the final agreement which would be the difficult phase of future negotiations with P5+1”.

He said construction of civil nuclear facilities was discussed, adding that “in some cases we are very close to an agreement and its implementation”.

Iran’s sole nuclear power plant at Bushehr, built by Russia, entered service in 2011 and produces 1,000 megawatts.

Tehran aims to produce 20,000 megawatts of electricity from nuclear power, which would require 20 similar reactors.

Lavrov said Moscow was interested to continue working with Iran on expanding “its peaceful nuclear programme”.

“I emphasise that no U.N. resolution has prohibited such a reactor” similar to Bushehr, he said.

Western powers and Israel suspect Iran’s nuclear programme masks a covert weapons drive, a charge Tehran denies, saying it is entirely peaceful.