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Russia says U.S. drive to arm Syria rebels hurts chances for peace

A Free Syrian Army fighter aims his weapon as he takes a defensive position in Deir al-Zor July 23, 2013. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
A Free Syrian Army fighter aims his weapon as he takes a defensive position in Deir al-Zor July 23, 2013. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia accused the United States on Wednesday of stalling chances for peace in Syria by pressing ahead with plans to arm rebels fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

Russia is at loggerheads over the conflict with its U.N. Security Council partner, the United States, where President Barack Obama can now move forward with arming rebels after easing some congressional concerns.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a press conference that Washington's plans would undermine joint efforts to organize an international peace conference on Syria that he agreed to with his U.S. counterpart, John Kerry, in May.

"If our American partners are now focusing on arming the opposition and are sharing plans... to strike Syrian government positions, then this, of course, runs against agreements to hold a conference," he said.

"That goes against our joint initiative."

The chances of bringing Syria's divided opposition and Assad's representatives to the negotiating table have faded in recent weeks, and help from Hezbollah has tilted the situation on the ground in Assad's favor.

More support from the United States could help the rebels push back. U.S. forces could help in various ways, the top U.S. military officer has said, from training to enforcing no-fly zones or conducting limited attacks on military targets.

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; editing by Mike Collett-White)

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