MOSCOW- "We are not conducting any negotiations on the fate of Assad," Itar-Tass news agency quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying during a meeting on Sunday.
Russia said on Sunday it was not holding any talks on the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, dismissing speculation that it is preparing for its ally's potential exit from power.
"We are not holding any talks on the fate of Assad," Itar-Tass news agency quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying during a meeting on Sunday.
"All attempts to present the situation differently are rather shady, even for the diplomacy of those countries that are known for striving to distort facts in their own favor," it quoted him as saying. He also said countries criticizing Russia and China for vetoing U.N. Security Council resolutions on Syria were "dishonest."
Russian and U.S. diplomats are meeting Sunday with U.N. peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi for more talks on the civil war in Syria, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, adding that the Americans were wrong to see Moscow as softening its position.
Russia agreed to take part in the talks in Geneva, he said, on the condition there would be no demand for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down.
Lavrov met last week with Brahimi and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Dublin. Afterward, Clinton said the United States and Russia were committed to trying again to get both sides in the Syrian conflict to talk about a political transition. Clinton stressed that the U.S. would continue to insist that Assad's departure be a key part of that transition.
Russia and the United States have argued bitterly over how to address the conflict, which began with peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011 and escalated into a civil war. The U.S. has criticized Russia for shielding its closest ally in the Middle East, while Moscow has accused Washington of encouraging the rebels and being intent on regime change.
Russia's foreign minister said Sunday that after he agreed to a U.S. proposal to have his and Clinton's deputies "brainstorm" on Syria, the Americans began to suggest that Russia was softening its position.
"No such thing," Lavrov said. "We have not changed our position."
In turn, Germany weighed in Sunday on the future of President al-Assad's regime, with Federal Intelligence Service chief Gerhard Schindler saying it would not survive, although it was impossible to say how long it would hang on.
"Signs are increasing that the regime in Damascus is in its final phase," he was quoted as telling the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.
All international efforts to stop the Syrian conflict have so far failed. Now in the 21st month of clashes, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates the current death toll at more than 40,000 lives.