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Russia tells US it will continue to back Assad

Moscow: Russian diplomats told a top visiting US dignitary on Friday that Moscow would continue backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s campaign against rebel forces despite peace talks due later this month.

US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman’s visit came ahead of a crunch meeting in Paris on Monday between her boss John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that will focus on Moscow’s push to give Syrian ally Iran a formal seat at the so-called Geneva 2 conference.

Russian officials said Lavrov and Kerry would also hold a joint meeting in Paris on Monday with UN-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.

Sherman did not address reporters after her meeting with Russian Deputy Foreign Ministers Mikhail Bogdanov and Gennady Gatilov.

The two diplomats will represent Moscow at the Syria negotiations that are scheduled to begin on January 22 in Switzerland.But the Russian foreign ministry said Sherman was told that Assad’s campaign against “terrorist groups” deserved comprehensive support.

“The Russian representatives stressed the importance of uniting efforts by the Syrian government and the patriotically-inclined opposition to fight terrorist groups whose activities are threatening not only the future of Syria, but also regional stability,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

The Russian statement said Moscow and Washington agreed that the Geneva 2 conference – a follow-up to July 2012 consultations that failed to put an end to the fighting – must focus on engaging regime and opposition members in their first direct contact.

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