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Syria

Syrian government shows readiness to talk with rebels

Syria has indicated it is willing to enter dialogue with the armed opposition. The comments were made on the sidelines of talks in Moscow, where officials haved said Syria stands "at a crossroads."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) speaks with his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Muallem during their meeting in Moscow on February 25, 2013. The regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is ready to talk with all parties, including armed groups, who want dialogue to end the conflict, Walid al-Muallem said today at the start of talks with Lavrov. AFP PHOTO / YURI KADOBNOV (Photo credit should read YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Russland Syrien Außenminister Walid al Moallem bei Sergej Lawrow in Moskau

Syria's foreign minister Walid al-Moallem said his government was ready to hold talks with the armed opposition, without mentioning any preconditions, such as forcing the rebels to lay down arms first.

"We are ready for dialogue with all who want dialogue, including those who are carrying arms," al Moallem said going into talks with his Russian counterpart in Moscow on Monday.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov added that there was no acceptable alternative to negotiations. He said that he saw Syria at the crossroads, but felt optimistic that a political solution could be found.

Russia is one of the Syrian government's closest allies and has stood up for President Bashar Assad in the United Nations Security Council.

Representatives from Moscow and the Arab League announced last week said they would attempt to establish direct contact between the two sides in the conflict, which according to the UN has killed at least 70,000 people.

The conflict began in March 2011 and reportedly intensified in recent days as both sides press for the military advantage.

The Syrian opposition coalition had said it was willing to negotiate a peace deal to end the civil war, but demanded again on Monday that President Bashar al-Assad must step down first and could not be a party to any settlement, a precondition Moscow rejected.

Opposition representatives then pulled out of planned talks at the weekend to protest the international community's inability to halt the bloodshed.

"Due to this shameful international position, the coalition has decided to suspend its participation in the Friends of Syria Conference of international powers due in Rome on Thursday and talks in Russia and the US," a Syrian National Coalition statement said.

Russia has been working towards a trip to Moscow, possibly in early March, by the head of the opposition coalition, Ahmed Moaz al Khatib.

rg/rc (AP, AFP, Reuters)