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Moscow concerned Jabhat al-Nusra is percieved as deterrent to Damascus — FM

May 17, 17:10 UTC+3
Russia's foreign minister says anti-terror measures are priority number one for Russia, but progress should be maintained along all guidelines that concern ceasefire and the political process
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Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US State Secretary John Kerry

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US State Secretary John Kerry

© Valery Sharifulin/TASS

VIENNA, May 17. /TASS/. The terrorist group Jabhat al-Nusra should not be regarded as a deterrent against President Bashar Assad and his government, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said after a meeting of the International Syria Support Group.

"Priorities are to be selected," he said. "Many ISSG members claimed that a choice will have to be made between the regime and the struggle against terrorism. I believe this is utterly wrong to say that as soon as Assad goes everything will get normal at once and we will achieve victory over the Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra and all other terrorist groups."

Lavrov recalled that the UN Security Council had repeatedly adopted resolutions saying that there could be no excuses for the evil of terrorism and any terrorist act.

"Saying ‘Either Assad or we will not combat terrorism’ is a crude violation of this fundamental, universal principle," he said.

Lavrov recalled that at Tuesday’s meeting of the ISSG, when Russia asked why it was impossible to distinguish between normal opposition and Jabhat al-Nusra in order to ensure there should be no pretext for taking a mild line towards terrorists and to crack down on Jabhat al-Nusra without hearing any complaints from some, a counterpart of ours said: "Ok, once we’ve bombed it out of existence, who will take its positions on the ground?"

"That’s a Freudian slip of the tongue," Lavrov said. "It means that these people’s train of thought is incompatible with the approach of the UN Security Council. It turns out that Jabhat al-Nusra is seen as a deterrent of the current regime. This is a dangerous turn of events. I believe we will be able to discuss this them with the US partners and other ISSG members.".

Struggle against terrorism in Syria is Russia’s priority

According to the minister, struggle against terrorism in Syria is Russia’s priority, but settlement efforts should proceed along all guidelines simultaneously.

"Priorities must be seen," Lavrov said. "Anti-terror measures are priority number one for us, but progress should be maintained along all guidelines that concern ceasefire and the political process. Compromises are to be looked for. It would be wrong to leave everything as it is, but it is impermissible to ruin government institutions, either."

"We don’t support [Syrian President Bashar] Assad, we support anti-terrorism efforts," he said. "We see no real force ‘on the ground’ that could be more efficient than the Syrian army, given all its weak points."

Assad is in no way ignoring advice

Syrian President Bashar Assad is in no way ignoring advice on the settlement in his country, Lavrov added.  

"As for whether Assad is ignoring our efforts or not, he knows and remembers that he has undertaken a liability to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254," he said.

The Russian minister said he means the formation at the transition stage of a joint transitional mechanism between the government and the entire spectrum of the Syrian opposition. This mechanism is essential to elaborate a new constitution and hold early presidential and parliamentary elections on its basis.

"As we have agreed, this will take about 18 months," Lavrov said. "And President Assad has confirmed these liabilities during contacts with our president."

Syrian government army is most efficient force ‘on ground’

Lavrov stressed that the Syrian government army is the most efficient force ‘on the ground.’

"We don’t support [Syrian President Bashar] Assad, we support anti-terrorism efforts," he said. "We see no real force ‘on the ground’ that could be more efficient than the Syrian army, given all its weak points, and those opposition groups we have established dialogue with via our base in Hmeimim."

"Several dozens of opposition groups have already signed ceasefire agreements, more than 100 settlements have announced their joining this process," Lavrov noted. "And we will continue this work."

"We are defending not a particular person, we are defending the state which is a member of the United Nations, at the request from the government of this sovereign state and we all have undertaken to respect and ensure the territorial integrity and political independence of this state in our documents and United Nations Security Council resolutions," the Russian top diplomat stressed.

Progress in settlement

According to the minister, the Syrian Support Group has noted progress in settlement in Syria.

"In all three directions (halting combat actions, humanitarian aid and political process) we have registered progress," Lavrov said. "Our common goal is to do so that all this is fulfilled in specific steps on the ground," he said, adding: "We will actively seek this."

"The major advantage of our collective position is that it encompasses all the key directions of work," Lavrov said, adding that this is halting combat actions with the focus on immediate ceasefire across the country, broadening humanitarian access and political process.

Lavrov said the violence level has significantly decreased since late February when the ceasefire in Syria brokered by Russia and the US was announced. "Humanitarian access has improved although a lot need to be done here."

Lavrov said Moscow hopes that all sides will be committed to distancing Syria’s opposition from Jabhat al-Nusra. 

The minister expressed concerns that the terrorism threat is growing in the region and particularly in Syria. "Here the problem of Jabhat al-Nusra is already becoming persistent."

The terrorist group is assuming different disguises. "It joins some separatist alliances with different groups which appear to have signed the ceasefire agreements but withdraw from them for some time when it is convenient for them and then come back," Lavrov said.

"We expect that the commitments that the United States and other countries undertook concerning the need to ensure that the normal and non-extremist opposition distances itself from Jabhat al-Nusra (should be implemented -TASS) including in geographic terms," Lavrov said.

"We should not forget that our common stance that was approved by the UN Security Council envisages an inclusive nature of the intra-Syrian negotiations," the minister said.

"We think it wrong to exclude anyone, in particular, the opposition Kurdish Democratic Union Party, from the Geneva talks," Lavrov stressed. "We hope those who oppose involvement of the Democratic Union Party into the negotiating process in Geneva will soon drop their objections, there more so as there are only a couple of such countries."

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