Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday rejected claims made by his U.S. counterpart Hillary Clinton that Moscow was supplying attack helicopters to the Syrian regime, and insisted that Russia's only weapon sales to Syria were "anti-air defense systems."
Speaking to reporters while on a visit to Iran, Lavrov insisted that the "anti-air defense system" being supplied to Syria by Moscow was nor for use "against peaceful demonstrators... unlike the US, who regularly supply such weapons to the region."
He also pointed out that the Russian sale of conventional air defense systems to Syria did not violate any international laws, and noted that Moscow had not agreed to a weapons-sale-ban initiated by some Western nations against Syria.
Lavrov referred only to the U.S. weapons supplies "to the region" in his remarks, but mistranslation of his remarks by the Iranian media had threatened to trigger a diplomatic row between the United States and Russia.
Soon after the Iranian media wrongly quoted Lavrov as saying that the United States was supplying arms to the Syrian rebels, Clinton insisted that the U.S. "has provided no military support to the Syrian Opposition, none."
Speaking at a joint press conference with India's Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna in Washington later on Wednesday, Clinton noted that Syria was "spiraling towards civil war" with the help of weapons supplied by Russia to the regime in Damascus.
"We have repeatedly urged the Russian government to cut these military ties completely and to suspend all further support and deliveries," Clinton said in reply to a question.
"We know because they confirm that they continue to deliver. And we believe that the situation is spiraling towards civil war, and it's now time for everyone in the international community, including Russia ... to speak to (Syrian President Bashar al) Assad with a unified voice," she added.
A day earlier, Clinton had accused Russia of supplying attack helicopters to the Syrian regime and warned that such moves would "escalate the conflict quite dramatically." She made the remarks during a public appearance with Israeli President Shimon Peres at the Brookings Institution think tank on Tuesday.
Russia, along with China, has been resisting efforts by the Western nations to punish the Syrian regime at the United Nations over its brutal repression. The two nations remain opposed to any foreign military intervention in Syria for bringing a forced regime change, and have reiterated their calls for a political dialogue between President Bashar al-Assad and his opponents to resolve the crisis.
China and Russia had also vetoed a U.N. resolution endorsing an Arab League plan for Syria at the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) on February 4. The two nations also jointly vetoed a Western resolution condemning repression in Syria in October.
According to the U.N., more than 10,000 people have been killed in Syria since a popular uprising against President Assad began in March 2011. The Opposition claims that the actual death toll is much higher. Notably, the Assad government continues to blame "armed terrorist gangs" backed by Islamists and foreign mercenaries for the violence.
Some 300 U.N. monitors are currently in Syria to observe the implementation of a six-point peace plan proposed by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan to end the violence. Nevertheless, Syrian rebel groups have said that they will no longer honor the earlier agreed ceasefire under Annan's plan, citing the continued killings of civilians by Syrian security forces.
by RTT Staff Writer
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