Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday it may be time to consider efforts to force foes of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to attend an international peace conference instead of just urging them to do so. Lavrov also accused European countries of trying to reinterpret the agreement he reached with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry over the weekend under which Syria is to give up its chemical weapons arsenal and avoid U.S. strikes.
Lavrov's remarks suggested Russia will resist any rush to threaten military intervention if Assad fails to implement the deal and that it will blame the rebels - and the West - if the agreement does not lead to a wider push to end Syria's conflict.
Lavrov and Kerry announced in May that their nations would seek to bring Syrian government and opposition representatives together at an international conference, but no date has been set and Moscow says rebel recalcitrance is the main hurdle.
"It is necessary to first convince the opposition (to attend). But maybe it's time to start using a different verb - to force the opposition to take part in the conference," Lavrov said after talks with Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy.
Lavrov has repeatedly urged Western nations to work harder to get Assad's opponents to attend the conference "without preconditions" - a reference to their calls for Assad's exit from power. He did not say how they might be forced to attend.
Syria's opposition has struggled to unify its fractious forces, and divisions among rebels seeking to oust Assad have added to Western reluctance to step in directly or provide arms.