Russia says it's not opposed to US calls for Assad to step down

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters Saturday that Russia isn't against a negotiated deal for Syrian President Bashar al Assad to step down, a hopeful sign that the Obama administration's approach might work.

If the Syrians agree (about Assad's departure) between each other, we will only be happy to support such a solution," Lavrov told reporters, according to Reuters.

Lavrov's comments, while encouraging to the U.S., weren't without caveats however.

"But we believe it is unacceptable to impose the conditions for such a dialogue from outside," he added.

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A key Syrian ally, Russia has been seen as an impediment to Assad's removal because his government hosts Russia's sole naval base outside the former Soviet Union, at Tartus on the Mediterranean. Russia has twice vetoed United Nations resolutions that just hinted at sanctions against Syria.

Instead of threatening sanctions or military action, Lavrov on Wednesday called for a broad meeting of countries and groups that have influence on Assad and the rebels to hash out a peace agreement.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has repeatedly called for Russia to join western nations in pressuring Assad to strike a peace deal with rebels opposed to his rule. The White House has ruled out taking the lead in pushing Assad out, focusing instead on creating multilateral support at the United Nations to put more pressure on Assad as the country slips toward sectarian civil war.

The time has come for the international community to unite around a plan for post-Assad Syria,” Clinton said during a visit to Turkey this week.

Critics in Congress argue the U.S. should take the lead because no one else can or will.

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) slammed the White House position on the Senate floor Thursday and renewed calls for military support to anti-government rebels in the country.

"U.S. policy in Syria now seems to be subject to the approval of Russian leaders who are arming Assad’s forces," McCain said.