(CBS/AP) MOSCOW - Russia's foreign minister said Friday that Moscow isn't discussing Syria's future without President Bashar Assad, as Washington has claimed.
Sergey Lavrov denied Thursday's statement by State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland that Moscow and Washington "are continuing to talk about a post-Assad transition strategy."
Lavrov told a news conference following talks with his Iraqi counterpart that Russia believes it's up to the Syrians to determine their country's future and that foreign players shouldn't meddle in that.
"It's not true that we are discussing Syria's fate after Bashar Assad," Lavrov said. "We aren't dealing with a regime change either through approving unilateral actions at the United Nations Security Council nor through taking part in some political conspiracies."
He argued that an international conference on Syria that Russia has proposed should focus on persuading the Syrian parties to sit down for talks. He says that Russia is opposing any attempts to use the conference to predetermine Syria's future.
"This meeting should be aimed at mobilizing resources that foreign players have to create conditions needed to start an all-Syrian political process, not to predetermine its direction."
He warned against using the conference to "justify any future unilateral actions."
Russia, along with China, has twice shielded Syria (its last remaining ally in the Arab world) from international sanctions over Assad's violent crackdown on protests that have left 13,000 people dead according to opposition groups.
U.N. official: Spike in violence derailing Observer's mission
The head of the U.N. observers in Syria said Friday a spike in violence is derailing the monitoring mission, which is the only functioning part of an international peace plan to calm the country's spiraling crisis.
Maj. Gen. Robert Mood blamed both sides of the conflict for the escalating bloodshed.
"Violence over the past 10 days has been intensifying willingly by the both parties, with losses on both sides and significant risks to our observers," Mood told reporters in Damascus.
He said the mission was established as the "factual voice" on the ground "but the escalating violence is now limiting our ability to observe, verify, report as well as assist in local dialogue and stability projects."
Mood's comments were the clearest sign yet that a peace plan brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan two months ago is disintegrating. The regime and the opposition both have ignored a truce that was supposed to go into effect April 12.
Mood said there appears to be a lack of willingness to seek a peaceful transition. "Instead there is a push towards advancing military positions," he said.
On Friday, the Syrian regime kept up a ferocious offensive on rebel areas around the country in one of the most serious escalations in violence since Annan brokered the truce.
An activist in the northern city of Aleppo said troops backed by helicopters and tanks were engaged in "raging battles" in the rebel-held town of Anadan and several other locations in the province.
Syrian troops have been sweeping through villages and towns in Syria's northern, central, southern and seaside provinces this week.