Moscow does not view Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told the Interfax news agency Sunday.
The comment came as the Kremlin sought to secure international consensus on which forces in the Syrian civil war ought to be branded terror groups as part of political negotiations aimed at ending the nearly five-year-long conflict.
“Some say Hezbollah is a terrorist organization,” Bogdanov was quoted as saying. “We maintain contacts and relations with them because we do not consider them a terrorist organization.”
The Russian official noted that members of the Shiite group’s political wing were legally elected to Lebanese Parliament, and that the organization had never carried out attacks on Russian soil. He added that the group was a “legitimate sociopolitical” force.
Bogdanov also said Russia does not consider Gaza-based Hamas of the Kurdish Democratic Unity Party as terrorist groups.
Syria’s civil war has spilled over into Lebanon on multiple occasions, inflaming sectarian tensions between the country’s Sunnis and Shiites and leaving scores dead. Iran-backed Hezbollah offers military support for Syrian President Bashar Assad and has sent thousands of troops to aid in the battle against rebel forces in the country.
Both Hezbollah and Hamas have called for the destruction of the Jewish state, fought in multiple wars against Israel, and launched deadly terror attacks on civilian targets.
Earlier Sunday, US President Barack Obama and his counterpart Vladimir Putin agreed on the need for UN-sponsored peace talks and a ceasefire to resolve years of war in Syria, a White House official said.
“President Obama and President Putin agreed on the need for a Syrian-led and Syrian-owned political transition, which would be proceeded by UN-mediated negotiations between the Syrian opposition and regime as well as a ceasefire,” the official told reporters after the leaders met on the sidelines of a G20 summit taking place in the Turkish resort of Antalya.
The huddle comes as the US, Russia and other countries pursue a new diplomatic plan to try to end Syria’s civil war, and was the first meeting of the two world leaders since Russia recently launched its own air campaign in Syria.
On Saturday, top diplomats gathered in Vienna agreed on a fixed calendar for Syria that would see a transition government in six months and elections in 18 months, but failed to agree on the future of embattled President Assad.