NEWS
19/08/2011 07:13 BST | Updated 19/10/2011 06:12 BST

Russia Opposes Western Calls For Syria's Assad To Step Down

Russia is opposing American and European calls for the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, according to a report from the Interfax news agency on Friday.

US President Barack Obama called for Assad "to step aside" on Thursday. His call was quickly echoed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

However, a Russian foreign ministry source was quoted as saying:

“We do not support such calls and believe that it is necessary now to give president Assad’s regime time to realise all the reform processes that have been announced".

The comment came after Russia's top arms exporter said on Wednesday that it would continue to sell weapons to Syria, despite calls from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for Russia to halt its weapons trade with Damascus. "There were deliveries of arms to Syria last year, and there will be deliveries this year. They will continue," Anatoly Isaykin, general director of Russia's top arms exporter Rosoboronexport, told a news conference outside Moscow.

Russia has kept close ties with Syria for nearly five decades and remains one of its most important arms suppliers, keeping criticism of Assad's regime. It remains firmly opposed to foreign interference in Syria.

The Kremlin continues to insist that Assad needs time to implement reforms, as the Western allies begin to draft a UN Security Council sanctions resolution.

Much to the irritation of other UN members, Russia holds the power of veto at the UN Security Council and in the past it has blocked previous Western-drafted resolutions on Syria.