Russia attacks ‘meddling’ on eve of Syrian crisis talks in Geneva

The Guardian reports: Hopes of a political solution to the Syrian crisis suffered a fresh blow on Thursday when Russia insisted it would not endorse an internationally backed plan for a political transition that would require President Bashar al-Assad to surrender power.

Syrian opposition groups warned that Assad would have to step down and leave the country before they would negotiate future political arrangements.

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said in Moscow: “We will not support and cannot support any meddling from outside or any imposition of recipes. This also concerns the fate of the president of the country, Bashar al-Assad.”

Lavrov was due to meet Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, to discuss Saturday’s Geneva conference, called in an attempt to agree broad support for a transitional national unity government in Damascus that could include anti-Assad forces.

But the Syrian National Council, the most coherent anti-Assad grouping, said it would reject any plan that did not include the unconditional departure of the president, his family and close allies. The SNC position was “firm and clear,” insisted spokesman George Sabra. Elements of the Syria-based internal opposition who once advocated dialogue with the regime also now say it is too late.

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