Russia pressing Syria leadership to talk to opposition: Lavrov

Russia pressing Syria leadership to talk to opposition: Lavrov

MOSCOW - Agence France-Presse
Russia pressing Syria leadership to talk to opposition: Lavrov

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks at a media conference. AP Photo/Yves Logghe

Russia, one of the few remaining allies of President Bashar al-Assad, said Friday it was pressing the Syrian leadership to put into action previous pledges for dialogue with the opposition.

"We actively encouraged... the Syrian leadership to maximally put into action its declared readiness for dialogue with the opposition," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters when asked about his meeting Thursday with Syria's deputy foreign minister.

Lavrov said Russia also encouraged Assad's government "to underscore that they are open to discussing the widest range of items in line with the agreements reached in Geneva on June 30." Russia's top diplomat warned on Thursday that time was running out for the parties to save an accord reached by global powers in Geneva that calls for the introduction of a transitional government but makes no explicit call on Assad to step down.

UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi pushed on Thursday for the plan after several days of talks with the leadership and opposition representatives in Damascus.

Lavrov said after his meeting with Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad that "the chances for such a solution... are diminishing." Russia has refused to back international pressure on Assad to step down and Lavrov made clear on Friday that Moscow's position on this point had not changed.

"The international community must not incite either side toward violence or pose preliminary conditions," said Lavrov.

"With all due respect to the international community, it is, of course, the Syrian people who must decide" Assad's fate, Lavrov stressed.

Moscow on Saturday will host Brahimi in a new bid to save efforts at ending a 21-month conflict that is estimated to have claimed more than 45,000 lives.

A top Russia official had earlier Friday said Moscow had also sent an invitation for talks to the head of the opposition National Coalition as it presses on with its diplomatic campaign.

Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told the RIA Novosti news agency the talks with National Coalition head Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib could take place in Moscow or at a foreign location such as Geneva or Cairo.

Lavrov told reporters that "as far as we understand, they (the National Coalition leaders) are not against this offer" for new talks.

The last Moscow meeting with representatives of the National Council in July ended in mutual recriminations and saw the opposition accuse Russia of inciting further violence by supporting Assad.