Syrian opposition in Russia meet amid diplomatic push
MOSCOW - Agence France-Presse
AP photoSyria's main opposition group on Aug. 13 insisted President Bashar al-Assad must go and rejected calls to join forces against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) jihadists as it met with Russia's foreign minister.
The head of Syria's National Coalition Khaled Khoja held talks with top diplomat Sergei Lavrov as part of a fresh push by Russia to find a way out of the four-year civil war that has cost some 240,000 lives.
Moscow -- one of Assad's few remaining backers -- is pushing a plan for a broader grouping than the US-led coalition fighting the ISIL group, to include Syria's government and its allies.
But Khoja -- in Moscow for his first talks since February 2014 -- ruled out cooperating with Assad and reiterated demands that the strongman must leave before any transitional government can be set up.
"Bashar Assad has no role in the future of Syria," Khoja said in an interview with the Interfax news agency translated into Russian.
At the start of the meeting, Lavrov insisted that Russia was working with regional and international players to find a political solution to the crisis and stop Syria from becoming a "hotbed of terrorism".
"The main thing now is that these interests translate into practical coordinated steps," Lavrov said.
National Coalition representative Badr Jamous described the visit as "very good", Russian Interfax reported after the sit-down.
"There were many issues where we agreed with the Russian representatives," Jamous was quoted as saying.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir -- a key backer of the Syrian opposition -- rejected calls to work with Assad against ISIL after a meeting with Lavrov in Moscow on Aug. 11.
The spate of meetings is part of a broader diplomatic flurry that saw Lavrov sit down with Jubeir and US Secretary of State John Kerry in Doha earlier this month.
As part of the push, Lavrov is expected to meet with the head of a newer grouping of opposition figures known as the Cairo Conference Committee on Aug. 14.
On Aug. 12, Russia's top Middle East envoy met in Moscow with the head of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) Saleh Muslim to discuss the mooted anti-IS coalition and attempts to unite Syria's splintered opposition.
Syria's opposition and Western officials have hinted that Moscow's backing for Assad may be wavering, but Moscow insists it remains firmly behind the Syrian leader.