U.S. to Syria: Do not meddle in Russia-Georgia conflict
U.S. slams Assad for publicly backing Russia's military op, offering to have Russian missiles in Syria.
Senior U.S. officials severely criticized Syria on Thursday after Syrian President Bashar Assad voiced his country's support of Russia in its military conflict with Georgia, saying that Syria should keep out of issues that don't pertain to them.
The officials suggested that Syria refrain from meddling in the affairs of other nations, "such as Georgia," Channel 10 reported Thursday. They added that Syria should remain focused on its own problems in the Middle East and keep trying to achieve peace in the region.
Earlier Thursday, Assad backed Russia's military action against Georgia at talks with President Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday.
Syria, a foe of Israel in the Middle East which stands accused by the United States of supporting international terrorism, is only the second country after Belarus to voice public support for Russia's military operation in Georgia.
"We understand the essence of the Russian position and its military response," Assad told Medvedev at the start of their meeting in the Kremlin leader's Black Sea residence, Bocharov Ruchei.
"We believe Russia was responding to the Georgian provocation," the Syrian president said.
Russia drew Western condemnation, led by the United States, when it mounted a crushing military offensive in response to Georgia's attempt two weeks ago to recapture the rebel, pro-Russian province of South Ossetia.
Moscow says it was forced to act to avert bloodshed in South Ossetia and defend Russian nationals and peacekeepers from the Georgian attack, though Tbilisi says Moscow engineered the conflict.
"I want to express my support for the Russian position in [the breakaway regions of] Abkhazia and South Ossetia....We oppose attempts to tarnish Russia's position," Assad said.
Meanwhile Thursday, Russian media on Thursday quoted Assad as saying ahead of a two day visit to Moscow that Syria was ready to negotiate hosting Russian surface-to-surface Iskander missiles on its soil, which Moscow says are capable of penetrating any missile defense.
Syria is interested in purchasing Russia's Pantsyr-S1 air defense missile system, the BUK-M1 surface-to-air medium-range missile system, military aircraft and other hardware, the Russian news agency Interfax quoted a diplomatic source as saying.
According to Russian media, Assad offered to host the Russian missiles as a response to a deal signed by Washington and Warsaw this week to deploy elements of a U.S. missile defense system in Poland, which has aggravated Moscow's relations with the West.
Assad's visit is likely to become an additional irritant for Washington. In the past, the United States has more than once warned Moscow against selling arms to its longstanding ally Syria.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, asked by reporters about plans to sell Iskander missiles and other modern weapons to Syria, said: "We are ready to consider requests from the Syrian side on buying more arms.
"We are indeed prepared to sell only defensive weapons which are not breaking the regional balance of powers," he said.
Lavrov said arms sales were part of Thursday's talks, but did not elaborate.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni tried to dissuade Moscow from closing arms deals with Syria, telling reporters in Jerusalem "it is a mutual interest of Russia, of Israel and of the pragmatic leaders and states in the region not to send long-range missiles to Syria."
Livni cited Syria's links with Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah, as reasons to avoid signing any number of rumored arms deals, including deals involving anti-aircraft and anti-tank missile systems.