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Thu 19 Dec 2013 01:00 PM

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Russia signals to Syria's Assad to stay silent on re-election

Moscow diplomat said it could fuel tension before planned peace talks

Russia signals to Syria's Assad to stay silent on re-election
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov. (Getty Images)

A Russian diplomat signalled on Thursday that
Syrian President Bashar Al Assad should refrain from statements suggesting he
might seek re-election because it could fuel tension before planned peace
talks.

Russia has been Assad's most important
international ally during Syria's civil war, but the remarks by Deputy Foreign
Minister Mikhail Bogdanov to Interfax news agency appeared to be a rare public
criticism of Assad by Moscow.

Assad told Syria's Al Mayadeen television in
October that he had no intention of quitting, despite pressure to do so from
the United States and rebels fighting government forces. He also saw no
obstacles to being nominated for a new term.

"Such rhetorical statements affect the
atmosphere and do not make the situation any calmer," Bogdanov was quoted
as saying.

Looking ahead to an international peace conference
which is planned on Syria next month in Geneva, he said: "Our position is
that ahead of the start of negotiations, there should be no remarks that could
displease anyone or provoke emotions and a response. They should rather be
avoided."

Bogdanov has been involved in preparations for the
peace talks that are due to start in Geneva on January 22.

Russia has blocked Western-backed efforts to
condemn Assad at the UN Security Council or to push him out of power. Moscow
says it is not trying to prop up Assad but that his departure cannot be a
precondition for peace moves.