Lavrov says Syria needs elec­tions

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD -

Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lavrov said the Krem­lin wants 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 com­ments Satur­day that mark a shift in Rus­sia’s po­si­tion, he also said that Rus­sia’s air force, which Moscow says has been bomb­ing Is­lamist mil­i­tants in Syria, would be ready to help Western-backed Free Syr­ian Army rebels, if it knew where they were.

The Krem­lin, Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad’s strong­est for­eign ally, has spo­ken broadly about the need for elec­tions in Syria be­fore. But Lavrov’s com­ments were its most spe­cific call yet for po­lit­i­cal re­newal and came just days af­ter a sur­prise visit by As­sad to Moscow.

“Ex­ter­nal play­ers can­not de­cide any­thing for the Syr­i­ans. We must force them to come up with a plan for their coun­try where the in­ter­ests of ev­ery reli­gious, eth­nic and po­lit­i­cal group will be well pro­tected,” Lavrov told Rus­sian state TV in an in­ter­view broad­cast Satur­day. “They need to pre­pare for both par­lia­men­tary and pres­i­den­tial elec­tions.”

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