MOSCOW: Russia denied on Thurs–day it had a “hidden agenda” on Syria as it launched a fresh round of crisis diplomacy by hosting the Iranian and Syrian foreign ministers ahead of peace talks in Switzerland.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrived in the Russian capital late Wednesday on the same jet as Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem.
Zarif met Lavrov on Thursday and the Russian foreign minister was due to hold talks with Muallem separately on Friday. The three sides are working to come up with a joint stance that would keep Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power after next week’s talks.
Iran’s ambassador to Moscow, Mehdi Sanaie, told the Interfax news agency that the three diplomats would meet for joint talks later in the day.
“This does not mean that we have some tri-party [peace]draft,” Lavrov told reporters after his talks with Zarif.
“We have nothing to hide,” said Lavrov. “We have no hidden agenda.”
Zarif will also meet later on Thursday with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss curbs on Tehran’s nuclear program and the possible purchase of missiles that could fend off punitive strikes by arch-foe Israel.
The talks between the Damascus regime and its two main allies come four days after a “Friends of Syria” meeting in Paris of mainly Western and Gulf nations backing the rebels.
World powers are seeking to bring the warring parties together for their first direct discussions at the so-called Geneva II peace talks beginning on January 22.
“There is a strong Tehran-Moscow-Damascus axis emerging,” said Russian PIR Center research institute analyst Andrei Baklitsky.
“Russia and Iran support Assad and a political settlement to the conflict—and this is the only thing working right now,” said the analyst.
“The West has no other alternative.”
Millions have been displaced and at least 130,000 killed in nearly three years. Some 70 nations that gathered in Kuwait on Wednesday raised $2.4 billion for what aid organizations describe as the world’s worst unfolding humanitarian disaster.
Putin has been on the ascendance ever since managing to avert seemingly inevitable US strikes against Russia’s closest Middle East ally in September by forcing Assad to renounce his chemical arms.