By Steve Gutterman
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia warned Western and Arab nations on Wednesday against arming opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, saying it would lead to years of bloodshed without helping the rebels to defeat government forces.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the “Friends of Syria” group of Western and Arab nations is undermining international envoy Kofi Annan’s efforts to end more than a year of violence, and criticized countries that support arming the opposition.
“It is clear as day that even if the opposition is armed to the teeth, it will not defeat the Syrian army, and there will simply be slaughter and mutual destruction for long, long years,” Interfax news agency quoted Lavrov as saying.
Russia has emphasized that the efforts of U.N.-Arab League envoy Annan are the only path to peace and has stayed away from “Friends of Syria” meetings, saying the group is biased in favor of Assad’s opponents and is not promoting peace.
“Everyone has supported Kofi Annan’s plan but decisions at the ‘Friends of Syria’ group meeting aimed at arming the opposition and at new sanctions undermine peace efforts,” Itar-Tass quoted Lavrov as saying during a visit to Azerbaijan.
Western and Arab nations said after a “Friends of Syria” meeting on Sunday in Istanbul that the group would consider further “measures with a view to the protection of the Syrian people”.
FRIENDS AND FOES
The group made no mention of arming the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), as advocated by some Gulf Arab states, but hardline Gulf countries may interpret the phrase as a license to fund, if not arm, the FSA.
Russia has joined China in vetoing U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning Assad’s government for the violence, and says foreign calls for his exit are unacceptable, but backed a council statement last month supporting Annan’s proposals.
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