Russia May Send Lawmakers to U.S. to Discuss Syria

MOSCOW (AP) -

President Vladimir Putin proposed on Monday to send a delegation of Russian lawmakers to the United States to discuss the situation in Syria with members of Congress.

Two top Russian legislators suggested that to Putin, saying polls have shown little support among Americans for armed intervention in Syria to punish its regime for an alleged chemical weapons attack.

Russian media showed Putin meeting on Monday with Valentina Matvienko, the speaker of the upper house, and Sergei Naryshkin, the lower house speaker, at his residence outside Moscow.

The lawmakers said maybe U.S. legislators can be persuaded to take a “balanced stance” on the issue. Putin supported the initiative, which would require formal approval by the Foreign Ministry.

Russia has sent legislators to the U.S. before to try to persuade Congress about pending legislation. But sending a delegation to Washington to discuss Syria’s civil war could be seen as a publicity stunt, given the strong positions Moscow already has taken as a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime. The U.S. has accused Russia of providing military support to Assad that has allowed him to cling to power during Syria’s civil war.

On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed evidence of the alleged chemical weapons use by the Syrian regime as “absolutely unconvincing.”

He said the evidence presented by the U.S. to Moscow showed “there was nothing specific there, no geographic coordinates, no names, no proof that the tests were carried out by the professionals.”

The U.S. said it has proof that Assad’s regime is behind attacks that Washington claims killed at least 1,429 people, including more than 400 children near Damascus on Aug. 21. Syrian officials have denied the allegations, blaming rebel fighters.

Lavrov has brushed aside Western assertions of an alleged Syrian regime role. Russia, along with China and Iran, has staunchly backed Assad throughout the conflict.