US, Germany to Russia: Don't hurt Syria peace efforts

Secretary of State John Kerry meets with German counterpart Guido Westerwelle.

Kerry and Westerwelle 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Kerry and Westerwelle 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON, DC - The United States and Germany on Friday warned Russia that arming Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces would hurt efforts to bring Syria's warring parties together for peace talks.
Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking after talks with his German counterpart, Guido Westerwelle, said Russian plans to send a sophisticated air defense system to Assad also put Israel's security at risk.
The United States and Russia are pressing for a peace conference in Geneva next month between Syria's government and opposition. Westerwelle called on Assad to "stop the violence and come to the negotiating table" and told Russia that sending the S-300 missiles to Assad "is totally wrong."
Kerry said, however, that he believes Russia is serious about moving toward peace in Syria, and that the upcoming talks in Geneva will be a test of Moscow's intentions.
Russia has been criticized for its sale of advanced anti-aircraft missiles to the Syria regime, which has for two years been fighting opposition forces seeking to oust the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon has warned Syria over the weapons acquisition, saying that Israel knows how to deal with such a situation.
The talks in Geneva are the latest in a series of efforts by the international community to find a solution to the fighting in Syria, now in its third year.
The acting head of Syria's opposition coalition George Sabra said on Friday it would stay out of any international peace talks as long as Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas were fighting alongside Assad's forces.
However, it was not clear if the statement by Sabra was the fragmented organization's final word.
Russia and the United States are trying to draw Assad's representatives and his opponents into planned talks in Geneva on forming a transitional government in an effort to end more than two years of bloodshed.
"The Syrian Coalition will not participate in international conferences and will not support any efforts in light of Hezbollah and Iran's militia's invasion of Syria," Sabra said.
But the Syrian National Coalition has been riven by disagreements during a week of talks in Istanbul, and some of Sabra's colleagues were more cautious.
A spokesman said the coalition had not made a final decision on whether to go to Geneva. Another official said Sabra's view did not necessarily represent that of the wider opposition.
The coalition voted during the Istanbul talks to participate in the Geneva conference only if a deadline was set for an internationally guaranteed settlement based on Assad's exit.
But Sabra said an offensive by Assad's forces, supported by Iranian-backed Hezbollah fighters, to capture the border town of Qusair had "dampened" hopes of reaching a political solution.
"It is difficult to continue when Syrians are constantly being hammered by the Assad regime with the help of outside forces like Iran and Russia," he said.