Moscow still sees two problems of "crucial importance" with a draft UN resolution on the violence in Syria, Russia's foreign minister said Saturday amid Western attempts to head off a Russian veto in the Security Council.
Sergey Lavrov said the resolution makes too few demands of armed groups opposing President Bashar Assad's regime. He also said Moscow remains concerned about whether it prejudges the outcome of a national dialogue among political forces in Syria.
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Lavrov's comments at the Munich Security Conference came hours before the UN Security Council is expected to meet to consider the resolution.
Russia has opposed any UN call for regime change or a military intervention in Syria, its last remaining ally in the region.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had "vigorous" talks with Lavrov in Munich on Saturday about his objections to the draft, and expressed hopes Moscow will vote 'yes', a US official said.
She and the Lavrov agreed on the urgency of the situation in Syria, and Clinton made it clear she believed the vote should go ahead on Saturday as scheduled, said a senior US State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Lavrov to travel to Syria
The latest version of the resolution resolves "quite a number of things which were important to us," Lavrov said. "It does not speak about any sanctions, it doesn't leave any loophole for outside interference."
Lavrov said, however, that there were the two issues which "are of crucial importance and they must be modified if a resolution is to be adopted."
He expressed concern about "an absolutely unrealistic provision expecting that the government of Syria would withdraw from the cities and towns exactly at the time when the armed groups are taking over the quarters of those cities and towns."
"We are not friends or allies of President Assad," he said. "We try to stick to our responsibilities as permanent members of the Security Council, and the Security Council by definition does not engage in domestic affairs of member states."
Russian news agencies quoted Lavrov as saying that he and Russia's foreign intelligence service, chief Mikhail Fradkov, are to travel to Syria on Tuesday to meet Assad. Lavrov, who said President Dmitry Medvedev had instructed him and Fradkov to make the trip, gave no details about its specific purpose, the reports said.
Scandal at Security Council?
In an interview broadcast earlier Saturday on Russian state television, Lavrov delivered a blunt warning that Moscow is prepared to use its veto power. He said Moscow had submitted its amendments to the Western-backed draft.
"If they want another scandal at the UN Security Council, we wouldn't be able to stop them," Lavrov said, voicing hope that Washington wouldn't put the draft to vote.
Earlier, Clinton told the conference she was hopeful that the UN would be able to come to an agreement later in the day.
"As a tyrant in Damascus brutalizes his own people, America and Europe stand shoulder to shoulder," she said.
"We are united, alongside the Arab League, in demanding an end to the bloodshed and a democratic future for Syria. And we are hopeful that at 10 am Eastern Standard Time in New York the Security Council will express the will of the international community."
AP and Reuters contributed to the report
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