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Russia halts sales of new weapons to Syria

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MOSCOW — Russia on Monday signaled that it would not sign new weapons contracts with Syria until the situation there calms down.

Russia will continue with previously agreed exports, but will not be selling new arms to Syria, Vyacheslav Dzirkaln, deputy chief of the Russian military and technical cooperation agency, told Russian news agencies on the sidelines of the Farnborough air show southwest of London.

Putting it in conflict with the West, Russia has blocked the U.N.'s Security Council from taking strong, punitive action against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime and is seen as Syria's key arms supplier. Syrian activists say about 14,000 people have been killed in the uprising that began March 2011.

Russia has been providing Syria's army with spare parts and repairing weapons supplied earlier, Dzirkaln said. He insisted that Russia does not sell helicopters or fighter planes to Syria.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague on Monday said he welcomes the decision, but added that Britain "would like to see a halt of all deliveries of weaponry to a regime that has embarked on the killing of so many of its own people."

U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said Washington saw the Russian statement as a good sign but was still seeking further clarification.

"We have repeatedly raised our concerns with the Russian government at a variety of levels," Ventrell told reporters. " We've expressed our belief that continued arms sales to the regime will only further throw flames on the fire, so we want them to stop all arms transfers, not only existing contracts but any new contracts as well."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton last month issued a harsh reprimand to Russia, saying that Moscow "dramatically" escalated the crisis in Syria by sending attack helicopters there. The State Department acknowledged later that the helicopters were actually refurbished ones already owned by the Syrian regime.

Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier on Monday said that Russia is still committed to a peace plan by U.N. envoy Kofi Annan, saying that the Syrian government and opposition groups should be "forced" to start a dialogue.

Annan's six-point peace plan was to begin with a cease-fire in mid-April between government forces and rebels seeking to topple Assad, to be followed by political dialogue. But the truce never took hold, and almost 300 U.N. observers sent to monitor the cease-fire are now confined to their hotels because of the escalating violence.

Hague on Monday called on Russia to show "a strong commitment to secure the implementation and mandate the implementation of what Kofi Annan has put forward."

Mike Corder in The Hague, Matthew Lee in Washington and Mansur Mirovalev and Laura Mills in Moscow contributed to this report.

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