Russian MPs plan Syria talks in US

FILE: Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin meets students of Tomsk Polytechnic University during a visit to the Siberian city of Tomsk on January 25, 2012. Picture: AFP
NOVO-OGARYOVO, RUSSIA/JOHANNESBURG – Russian authorities are planning to send a Parliamentary delegation to the United States (US) for talks on Syria with the US Congress in a move publicly endorsed by President Vladimir Putin.

The carefully choreographed Kremlin meeting comes after US President Barack Obama announced he’s delaying military action against Syria, saying he will first seek authorisation from Congress.

The latest Kremlin initiative appears aimed at persuading the US Congress to vote down Obama’s request, although it’s unclear what sway the Russian delegates could have over US lawmakers.

Obama’s administration says president Bashar al-Assad’s forces used deadly nerve gas to kill more than 1,400 people in a Damascus suburb last month.

Putin has said the idea that al-Assad’s forces could have used such weapons is “utter nonsense”.

Dismissing the US accusations against the Syrian government as nothing but “talk”, senior legislator Valentina Matviyenko said Russia stands ready to send delegations.

Russia is one of the main allies of al-Assad and has already blocked several Western-led resolutions in the UN Security Council to sanction him over his crackdown on a more than two-year-old uprising.

“I think if we manage to establish a dialogue with our partners in the US Congress, to exchange arguments, we could possibly better understand each other,” Matviyenko, speaker of the Federation Council, told Putin at his residence near Moscow.

“We hope that the US Congress will occupy a balanced position in the end and without strong arguments in place ... will not support the proposal on use of force in Syria,” Matviyenko added.

Putin rejected the US assertions hours later, saying on Saturday he was convinced the 21 August attack was staged by Assad’s opponents to provoke military intervention.

It was uncertain what sort of reception a Russian delegation would receive in the United States.

Both countries passed legislation last year to punish the other for alleged human rights violations.

Moscow has also defied Washington by granting temporary asylum to former US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden.

(Edited by Craig Wynn)