MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia called on Monday for Iranian involvement in efforts to end the conflict in Syria, putting it at odds with the United States, and said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would travel to Tehran on Wednesday.
Lavrov’s discussions will focus on the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, with attention to Syria, and on a June 18-19 meeting in Moscow between global powers and Iran on Tehran’s nuclear programme, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said.
Russia is resisting Western and Gulf Arab pressure to take a tougher stance toward Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, rejecting calls for sanctions and advocating a conference bringing together global and regional powers including Iran.
Lavrov intends to discuss the initiative with Iran.
“Without Iranian participation, the opportunity for constructive international influence on the Syrian issue will not be utilised in full measure,” the Foreign Ministry said.
Russia says the proposed conference would lend support to Kofi Annan’s U.N.-backed peace plan, whose prospects for success are in doubt after frequent ceasefire violations and two massacres in recent weeks.
The United States says it does not believe Iran, Assad’s strongest regional ally, is ready to play a constructive role in Syria, where the United Nations says government forces have killed more than 10,000 people since March 2011.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said last week it was “hard to imagine inviting a country that is stage-managing the Assad regime’s assault on its people”.
Russia is calling on all nations to use their influence on the Syrian government and on rebels to seek an end to the violence and start of political dialogue, but opposes foreign military or political interference.
“Spreading the ‘Libyan model’ on other countries of the Middle East and North Africa that are seized by revolutionary events is impermissible,” the Foreign Ministry statement on Lavrov’s Iran visit said.
The ministry made no direct link between the Syrian crisis and the talks next week in Moscow between six global powers and Iran on Tehran’s nuclear work, which Western nations fear is aimed at developing weapons capability. Iran denies that.
Preparations for the talks, agreed at a previous round last month in Baghdad, were clouded on Sunday when Iran’s deputy negotiator Ali Bagheri said the six powers were unprepared for them.
Iran wants preparatory talks that include input from experts but the United States, China, Russia, Germany, France and Britain have indicated the issues should be addressed in Moscow.
“We hope all the delegations, including Iran’s, will come to the Russian capital intent on constructive dialogue that would allow for positive results and further progress toward overcoming existing differences,” the Russian ministry said.
It said it was clear the talks could not bring agreement on all issues and that Moscow believed “the negotiations process must certainly be continued after the upcoming round”.
Senior diplomats of the six powers, known as the P5+1 because the group consists of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, were to meet in Strasbourg on Monday and Tuesday to prepare for the Moscow round.
Western diplomats have expressed concerns since their last meeting with Iran in Baghdad in May that Iran is backtracking on assurances that its nuclear work will be discussed in detail.
Officials from the EU, who oversee talks on behalf of the P+1, have exchanged letters and phone calls with the Iranian delegation in recent weeks, in what has become an escalating spat over preparations for Moscow.
In the latest move, Helga Schmid, a senior EU diplomat, sent details of the P5+1 proposals regarding curbs on Iranian uranium enrichment to her counterpart in Tehran.
“I thought it may be necessary to present you once again with a copy of the proposal package aimed at taking … confidence-building steps which I handed out (in Baghdad) on May 23,” Schmid wrote to Bagheri.
(Additional reporting by Justyna Pawlak in Brussels; Editing by Steve Gutterman and Andrew Roche)