Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says Moscow wants Syria to prepare for parliamentary and presidential elections and is ready to provide air support to the Free Syrian Army. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).
ROUGH CUT (NO REPORTER NARRATION) STORY: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Kremlin wanted Syria to prepare for parliamentary and presidential elections, as Moscow intensified its drive to convert its increased clout with Damascus into a political settlement. In an interview with the Russia 1 channel weekly program "News on Saturday with Sergei Brilev" posted on the country's foreign ministry website on Saturday (October 24), Lavrov called for a renewal of the political process in Syria and said this issue was discussed with the country's president Bashar al-Assad. Lavrov was speaking in the Russian resort of Sochi on Thursday (October 22), just days after a surprise visit by Assad to Moscow and on the eve of talks in Vienna, Austria on Syrian settlement attended by foreign ministers of the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Russia has long maintained that Iran should be included in Syrian peacemaking. Lavrov said he hoped Iran, as well as Egypt, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan would be invited to the next round of talks. The Russian Foreign Minister phoned U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday to discuss organizing talks between the Syrian government and opposition, the Russian foreign ministry said. It said the two men had spoken of the need to tap the potential of other countries in the region to push the political process forward. The U.S. State department declined to comment, pointing to what Kerry had said about Syria in Vienna on Friday (October 23) when he struck an upbeat note about the possibility of cooperating with Russia to find a political solution, even as he acknowledged that the basic disagreement on Assad's future remained. Moscow says Assad must be part of any transition and that the Syrian people will decide who rules them. Washington has said it could tolerate Assad during a short transition period, but that he would then have to exit the political stage. In comments which mark a shift in Russia's position, Lavrov also said that Russia's air force, which has been bombing Islamist militants in Syria since Sept. 30, would be ready to help Western-backed Free Syrian Army rebels, if it knew where they were. Lavrov gave the interview on the eve of a meeting in Vienna where a political solution to Syria's civil war - now in its fifth year - was discussed. Kerry said after that meeting he expected new talks on Syria to begin as soon as next week, and did not rule out the participation of Iran, something Moscow has pushed for.