MOSCOW - Russia on Saturday said that a negotiated solution to the conflict in Syria is still possible, but the international mediator struggling to end 21 months of bloodshed warned of "hell" unless a deal is struck.
Sergei Lavrov and Lakhdar Brahimi announced no major new initiatives after talks in Moscow and their remarks underscored the obstacles the UN-Arab League envoy faces in bringing about a solution.
"If the only alternative is hell or a political process, then all of us
have to work continuously toward the political process," said Brahimi,
adding it was still possible to reach "a solution that would work" but
that the barriers were daunting.
"The chance for a political settlement remains and it is our obligation to make maximal use of that chance," Lavrov told reporters in a joint appearance after his talks with Brahimi, who met Syrian President Bashar Assad earlier in the week
Lavrov, whose country has blocked Western and Arab efforts in the UN Security Council to put pressure on Assad, repeated that Assad's exit must not be a precondition for a political process, saying such demands were "wrong" and counterproductive.
He said the refusal of the Syrian opposition National Coalition to talk to the Syrian leadership was a "dead-end position," and criticized the coalition leader for rebuffing an invitation for talks with Russia.
Brahimi's talks with Lavrov occurred a day after the main Syrian opposition group rebuffed diplomatic advances by Russia
and firmly reiterated it would not negotiate with President Bashar Assad's government.
The UN-Arab League peace envoy is trying to build on an agreement reached in Geneva in June by world powers, including the United States and Russia, that called for the creation of a transitional government but left Assad's role unclear.
In Damascus on Thursday, Brahimi reiterated the call for an interim government
to rule until elections in Syria and said only substantial change would meet demands of ordinary Syrians, but did not specify who could be part of the transitional body.
Russia has vocally supported Brahimi's efforts while refusing to join Western and Arab calls for Assad's exit, as it has throughout a conflict that has killed an estimated 45,000 people since protests in March 2011 elicited a fierce government crackdown.
Russia, together with China, has angered the West and some Arab states by vetoing three UN Security Council resolutions meant to put pressure on Assad, who has given Moscow one of its firmest post-Soviet footholds in the Middle East.