Russia says policy on Syria unchanged

MOSCOW Fri Dec 14, 2012 8:55am GMT

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia said on Friday it had not changed policy on Syria, despite comments by a diplomat who said President Bashar al-Assad's opponents might win the civil war.

The remarks on Thursday by Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov were among the most pessimistic yet from Russia on Syria and were welcomed by Washington, which said Moscow had "finally woken up to reality".

But Russia's Foreign Ministry said Bogdanov had reiterated the country's position on Syria, stating that any resolution of the conflict should be based on an agreement secured at an international meeting in Geneva earlier this year.

"Bogdanov reiterated Russia's position there is no alternative to a political solution in Syria, based on the final communique of the Action Group which was approved by consensus at a ministerial meeting in Geneva," it said in a statement.

The regional and world powers that met in Geneva agreed on June 30 that a transitional government should be set up in Syria to end the bloodshed but left open the question of what part Assad might play in the process.

It was not immediately clear whether Bogdanov spoke out of turn or whether his comments reflected divisions in Russia over what is happening in the 20-month-old civil war in Syria and how to handle it.

Russia has said that Assad's removal must not be a precondition to a solution and has protected him from censure in the U.N. Security Council by vetoing three consecutive resolutions against him.

Bogdanov, the Kremlin's envoy for the Middle East, said on Thursday that rebel gains on the ground meant their ultimate victory over Assad "cannot be ruled out.

U.S. State department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Bogdanov's comments demonstrated that Moscow now "sees the writing on the wall" on Syria. She said Russia should now get behind efforts to prevent a wider bloodbath.

(Reporting by Thomas Grove, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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