x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Russia sticks to its guns over existing agreements with Syria

Russia is discussing extending a loan to Damascus to help its war-battered economy and is still committed to delivering S-300 missiles in defiance of the West, a top Syrian official says.

MOSCOW // Russia is discussing extending a loan to Damascus to help its war-battered economy and is still committed to delivering S-300 missiles in defiance of the West, a top Syrian official said yesterday.

Visiting Syrian deputy prime minister, Qadri Jamil, said after meeting the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, in Moscow that the issue of Russian credit was discussed at the talks and Damascus hoped for an agreement by the end of the year.

"We discussed it, although it is still early to talk of concrete figures," Mr Jamil said. "We hope that the question will be solved by the end of the year. Experts are now discussing it."

The regime of the Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad, is in urgent need of new sources of cash to make ends meet as it battles rebels in a conflict that has lasted more than two years and according to activists has killed more than 100,000 people.

Arms agreements with Russia, including Moscow's controversial contract to deliver S-300 missile systems to Damascus, remain in place.

"All agreements between Russia and Syria in the area of arms deliveries are in place," the Syrian deputy prime minister said. "Relations between Syria and Russia are strengthening for the good of peace in the region."

Russia has angered the West and anti-Assad Arab states by refusing to halt military and other cooperation with the Damascus regime throughout the Syria conflict.

Moscow in turn has condemned the West for openly siding with the rebels and strongly rejected the idea that Mr Al Assad should step down as a precondition for talks.

Mr Lavrov did not comment on the possible credit or arms deliveries but said Russia was pressing on with efforts to hold a peace conference to end the bloodshed in Syria as soon as possible.

He said it was the opposition, rather than the government, that was holding up the realisation of the plan to hold the conference in Geneva and said that to expel "terrorists and extremists" from Syria should "become one of the main points of the proposed international (peace) conference".

"To our regret, unlike the government of Syria, a significant part of the opposition, including the National Coalition, has not expressed such readiness yet," he said, referring to a largely exiled opposition group.

In May, Russia and the US announced a plan to bring representatives of Mr AL Assad's regime and the opposition around the table for talks in Geneva, but so far the momentum for holding the talks has faltered.

 

* Agence France-Presse and Reuters