Washington has urged Moscow to put aside "serious disagreements" when it comes to cooperation to solve international problems such as Syria. However, on that specific issue, the two countries seem as far apart as ever.
Agreement on Syria remained elusive on Saturday night after US Vice President Joe Biden met Russia's foreign minister at the Munich Security Conference.
Meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Biden underlined the need for cooperation, despite major points of disagreement.
"The vice president emphasized the importance of the two countries working together in the interest of international peace and security, including in Syria," a White House statement said.
While the US and other Western powers have repeatedly called for an end to Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, Russia, along with China, has resisted international action. The Kremlin has instead maintained close relations with Assad's government throughout the 22-month uprising in Syria.
While Biden described Assad as a “tyrant” who must go, Lavrov flatly contradicted him.
"The persistence of those who say that priority number one is the removal of Assad is the single biggest reason for the continuing tragedy in Syria," said Lavrov.
Perceived chemical threat
Lavrov stressed that Russia shared Western concerns about the possible use of chemical weapons, but added that Moscow felt they would not be used by the regime itself..
"The greatest danger is the possibility that the chemical weapons will fall into the rebels' hands," Lavrov said.
However, after meeting Syrian opposition coalition leader, Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib later in the day, Lavrov said he wished to maintain contact.
"I reminded Khatib that after the creation of the coalition and the appointment of their leader, we immediately demonstrated our interest in maintaining regular contact," Lavrov said. "We will make that happen," he added.
Khatib, elected as the head of the Syrian National Coalition late last year, made a surprise announcement Wednesday that his group might be ready for dialogue with the government of Bashar Assad, provided certain conditions were met.
Earlier, Biden offered Iran direct talks aimed at ending the diplomatic standoff over its nuclear program. Biden told the conference on Saturday that there was still time to resolve the international community's dispute with Tehran through diplomacy.
"The ball is in the government of Iran's court. It is well past time for Iran to adopt a serious good-faith approach to negotiations," Biden said.
rc / ccp (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)