Russia urges Assad to stop re-election talk

Diplomat says remarks by the Syrian president suggesting he might seek re-election in 2014 ‘do not make the situation any calmer’

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Russia has urged Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to refrain from statements suggesting he might seek re-election in 2014 because it could fuel tension before planned peace talks.

Russia has been Assad’s most important international ally during Syria’s civil war, but the remarks by Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov to Interfax news agency appeared to be a rare public criticism of Assad by Moscow.

Assad told Syria’s Al Mayadeen television in October that he had no intention of quitting, despite pressure to do so from the United States and rebels fighting government forces. He also saw no obstacles to being nominated for a new term.

“Such rhetorical statements affect the atmosphere and do not make the situation any calmer,” Bogdanov was quoted as saying, according to Reuters.

Looking ahead to an international peace conference which is planned on Syria next month in Geneva, he said: “Our position is that ahead of the start of negotiations, there should be no remarks that could displease anyone or provoke emotions and a response. They should rather be avoided.”

Bogdanov has been involved in preparations for the peace talks that are due to start in Geneva on Jan 22.

Russia has blocked Western-backed efforts to condemn Assad at the U.N. Security Council or to push him out of power. Moscow says it is not trying to prop up Assad but that his departure cannot be a precondition for peace moves.

Russia meanwhile has sent 10 planes to Syria carrying equipment to help in the multinational operation to remove and destroy the country's chemical weapons arsenal, its ambassador to Damascus said Thursday, AFP reported.

The planes carrying the equipment have touched down in the Syrian port city of Latakia, Russia's ambassador to Syria Azamat Kulmukhametov told the RIA Novosti news agency.

“An air bridge has been established to deliver the technology and the equipment necessary for assisting the operation for the removal of the chemical weapons from Syria… Today there have been 10 flights to Latakia and this is going to continue,” he said, according to AFP.

Kulmukhametov did not give further details. But the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) which is overseeing the removal has said Russian armoured trucks will help take Syria's chemical weapons out of the country.

A Danish and a Norwegian frigate are waiting in Cyprus to escort Nordic cargo ships to collect the chemicals from Latakia. The Nordic vessels will take the chemicals to an Italian port, where they will be loaded onto a US ship for destruction.

The US-Russia deal for Syria to surrender its chemical arsenal narrowly averted US airstrikes on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and created hopes of a wider peace deal to end the Syria conflict.

(With Reuters and AFP)

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