By Jill Dougherty, reporting from onboard Secretary Clinton's plane
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may attend an international meeting on Syria proposed by Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan, but only if the participants agree that there must be a political transition in the country, an official said Tuesday.
Russia has opposed the idea that other countries dictate a political transition, insisting it is a decision for the Syrians themselves.
Clinton called Annan from her plane en route to a three-nation tour of Finland, Latvia and Russia. The special envoy is continuing his consultations, a senior State Department official told reporters aboard the plane.
"For us, the key thing is that the participants in the meeting agree on the way forward including political transition in Syria. I think if Kofi Annan can get the proposed participants to agree on such a plan for political transition, then there will be a meeting. But that's what we need to find out before we go to any meeting," the official said.
"If other proposed participants agree to that, then the secretary will go to the meeting and we'll try to advance it in that way," the official added. "What it can't be is just another round of dialogue for dialogue's sake with the regime. And that's our view. And I think, frankly, it's the view of a very large number of members of the international community."
While in St. Petersburg this week, Clinton is expected to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the topic of Syria will be on their agenda, the official said.
In another point of contention between the United States and Russia, Moscow wants Iran to participate in the hoped-for meeting.
Annan has said Iran should be part of the solution. But the Obama administration objects to Iran's participation, and accuses Tehran of not being a "constructive player."
Clinton also plans to discuss Russian arms sales to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's regime, the official told reporters.
"Our concern about the issue has not gone away, and nor - to be clear - has Russia accepted to refrain from selling arms to the regime. So, in that sense, it still is a live issue and I'm sure the secretary will raise it with Foreign Minister Lavrov on Friday night because our view hasn't changed in the least regardless of whether a particular shipment is under way or not," the official said.
A shipment of refurbished Russian helicopters headed for Syria had to turn around and return to Russia after its British insurance company dropped coverage on the ship carrying helicopters.