MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia on Thursday harshly criticized the Arab League's recognition of the Syrian opposition as the only representative of the country, saying it effectively kills efforts to negotiate a peaceful end to the civil war there.
At a summit in Qatar on Tuesday, the Arab League let the main Syrian opposition coalition take over the country's seat for the first time.
In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said his government "deeply regrets" the move, which he said amounts to "the Arab League's rejection of a peaceful settlement." He told reporters that the decision amounts to discarding of an international peace plan approved in Geneva in June, which was supported by the Arab League at the time. It called for an open-ended cease-fire and peace talks to form a transitional government that would run the country until elections.
However, the plan was a non-starter for the opposition because of Moscow's insistence it did not explicitly ban Syrian President Bashar Assad and other members of his regime from taking part in the transitional leadership.
Lavrov said the summit's decision Tuesday "strokes out all the efforts that have been made, including the Geneva agreements, and throws the status of Lakhdar Brahimi, U.N. and Arab League envoy for Syria, into limbo.
"If one of the founders of his mission, the Arab League, declares that the opposition coalition is the only legitimate representative of the country, there will be no talks and those who want to oust the regime will be provided with weapons. I simply can't see how Mr. Brahimi could remain the envoy.... That effectively puts an end to international mediation from the point of view of the Arab League."
Lavrov said the Doha summit's decision signaling an intention to supply the Syrian opposition with weapons is aimed at "inciting confrontation and encouraging irreconcilable forces."
At the United Nations, Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin reiterated Lavrov's message and accused the Arab League of creating obstacles to progress in Syria, saying it was "beginning to act more like a negative than a positive force."
Russia has been Assad's main supporter throughout the two-year conflict, joining forces with China at the U.N. Security Council to shield his regime from international sanctions over his crackdown on an uprising that turned into a civil war that has killed an estimated 70,000 people.
Associated Press writer Maria Sanminiatelli contributed to this report from the United Nations.
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