Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a news conference with… (Bertrand Langlois / AFP/Getty…)
MOSCOW -- Russia charged Friday that the latest U.S. push to aid the Syrian opposition promotes "extremists" who have no interest in peace talks and are determined to seize power through force.
The comments come a day after U.S. Secretary State John F. Kerry, speaking in Rome, pledged tens of millions of dollars in nonlethal assistance to Syrian dissidents but turned away opposition calls for direct military aid to rebels fighting to oust President Bashar Assad.
"The decisions taken in Rome and also the statements that were voiced there both in spirit and literally encourage the extremists to take power by force regardless of would-be inevitable suffering of ordinary Syrians," Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement published on the ministry’s website. "In our view, the urgent task of today is to immediately halt the bloodshed and any violence and turn to a political dialogue."
In Rome, Kerry said Washington also favored a "political solution," but one predicated on Assad's ouster and the creation of a transitional government in Damascus.
Russia, a stalwart ally of Assad, says it is trying to encourage negotiations between the regime and the opposition. But Moscow says it is illusory to expect Assad's government to agree to talks that will ensure its demise.
The Syrian opposition coalition refuses to engage in any negotiations that do not result in the removal of Assad and his security apparatus. Moaz Khatib, who heads the major opposition coalition, reiterated that point in Rome.
The stern tone of the Foreign Ministry statement contrasted with the somewhat conciliatory comments a day earlier from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who met in Moscow with French President Francois Hollande.
"I think we must listen to the opinion of our [Western] partners as to some aspects of this not so simple problem,” Putin said, referring to Syria. "It seems to me that we would need to sit over a bottle of vodka -- a bottle of good wine wouldn't be enough -- to sort these things out."
Kerry, on his first overseas trip as secretary of State, arrived Friday in Turkey, a NATO ally. Syria was also expected to be a major topic on the agenda in meetings with Turkish officials, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Turkey, which shares a long border with Syria, has been a major backer of the Syrian uprising. Erdogan has denounced Assad as a dictator and called for him to step down. Ankara has allowed Syrian rebels to use Turkish territory as a sanctuary and corridor for weapons and fighters headed to Syria.
The Associated Press reported that Kerry was also expected to take the Turkish prime minister to task for his recent comments equating Zionism with a crime against humanity. The comments have caused an uproar and drawn a condemnation from the White House.
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Loiko reported from Moscow and McDonnell from Beirut.