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Russia warns EU not to lift Syria arms ban as UK keeps pushing

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov adjusts his earphones during a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu (n
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov adjusts his earphones during a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu (n

By Alexei Anishchuk

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia warned the European Union on Monday not to lift an arms embargo that has prevented weapons supplies to Syrian rebels, despite British and French lobbying.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Sunday that EU foreign ministers, who last month rejected a Franco-British proposal to ease the ban, would in coming weeks discuss the question again.

Russia, which says it is continuing to implement weapons contracts with Syria but is no longer delivering arms that could be used in the civil conflict, has vehemently opposed any supplies of weapons to President Bashar al-Assad's opponents.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said an embargo was unnecessary in the first place because such supplies were prohibited by international law.

If the embargo is removed, "the international obligations of the EU countries, which prohibit supplies of arms and ammunition to non-government actors, are not going anywhere", he said at a news briefing after talks with his Guinean counterpart.

Russia has used its U.N. Security Council veto power to shield Assad from Western efforts to push him from power or increase pressure upon him to end violence in a conflict that has killed more than 70,000 people since March 2011.

Moscow has for months been calling for implementation of an declaration agreed by world powers including Russia and the United States in Geneva last June that called for a transitional government. However, Washington disagrees with Moscow's assertion that the agreement requires Assad to step down.

Lavrov said he and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry would discuss ways to promote a peace process in Syria at talks on the sidelines of a NATO gathering and a Russia-NATO foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels on Tuesday.

"We will discuss what we, Russia and the United States, can do to convince those who ... are resisting the peace process to step onto the path of implementing the Geneva agreements," Lavrov said.

Russian and U.S. diplomats have held several meetings for that purpose since late last year, to little effect.

Lavrov said that in a telephone conversation with Kerry on Saturday, "I sensed confirmation of the intention ... to seek as swift as possible a political solution".

But he said the West had not done enough to encourage all Assad's foes to show readiness for dialogue with the government: "So far there is clearly not enough movement on this."

(Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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