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Diplomacy

Syrian opposition rejects Russian talks proposal

The Syrian opposition has rejected a Russian proposal for talks in Moscow. The Russian Foreign Ministry has sought to encourage the Syrian regime to engage in dialogue with the opposition.

Syrian opposition leader Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib has rejected the offer of talks in Moscow. Speaking on the al-Jazeera news channel, Khatib said that Russia should apologize for backing the regime of President Bashar Assad.

"We have clearly said we will not go to Moscow. We could meet in an Arab country if there was a clear agenda."

"We also want an apology from [Russian Foreign Minister Sergei] Lavrov. If we do represent the Syrian people why doesn't Russia respond and issue a clear condemnation of the barbarity of the regime and make a clear call for Assad to step down? This is the basic condition for any negotiations," he said.

Russia wants dialogue

On Friday the Russian foreign minister said he was ready to conduct a meeting with Khatib. He confirmed his government had contacted the Syrian National Coalition through the Russian Embassy in Egypt.

"We actively encouraged, as we have been doing in the past few months, the Syrian leadership to make as concrete as possible its declared readiness for dialogue with the opposition," Lavrov said after talks with his Egyptian counterpart Mohamed Kamel Amr in Moscow.

"We are consistently working with the regime and all the opposition groups without exception," Lavrov said. "We are telling them the same thing: 'You have to think of your people, of your country. You should agree on a ceasefire. Sit down at the negotiating table.'"

Lavrov was clear, however, that this did not mean that Russia had recognized the Syrian opposition.

Mikhail Bogdanov, the Russian deputy foreign minister, told the RIA Novosti news agency the talks with the opposition coalition could take place in Moscow or a foreign location like Geneva or Cairo. "We will hear what [UN envoy] Lakhdar Brahimi says about the Syrian crisis and likely there will be a decision on a new 'triple B' meeting with Lakhdar Brahimi, [US Deputy Secretary of State] William Burns and Mikhail Bogdanov," in January, after the Russian New Year holidays, he said.

Brahimi is due in Moscow for talks Saturday on the results of his negotiations with Syrian President Bashar Assad and the opposition, during his five-day trip to Damascus this week.

jm/ccp (Reuters, AFP)