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Russia reaches out to Syrian opposition in diplomatic rush

Video by Kethevane GORJESTANI

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2012-12-28

Russia, one of Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s last remaining allies, has invited Syrian opposition leader Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib (pictured) for talks as it seeks to play a more central role in mediating an end to fighting in the country.

Russia has invited the opposition Syria National Coalition to hold talks amid frantic efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the 21-month-old crisis in the country.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told the RIA Novosti news agency that talks with the head of the Syria National Coalition, Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, may be held in the Russian capital of Moscow or in a foreign location like Geneva or Cairo.

"The invitation has been handed over, it is in the hands of Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib," Bogdanov said on Friday.

Russia, one of Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s last remaining allies, has so far strongly criticised moves by Western and anti-Assad Arab states recognising the Syria National Coalition as legitimate representatives of the Syrian people since the group was formed last month.

"We are categorically opposed to Bashar al-Assad staying in power"

A Syrian deputy foreign minister visited Moscow on Thursday and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is due to meet the UN and Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, on Saturday.

Russia had already indicated it was ready to hold talks with the Syrian opposition who until now have regarded Moscow with suspicion over its refusal to break ties with the Assad regime.

"This invitation isn’t new," Monzer Makhous, an ambassador for the Syria National Council, told FRANCE 24. "Two weeks ago the Russian Foreign Ministry invited Moaz Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib… but he refused to go at the time to Moscow."

Bogdanov also said he expected there to be a new three-way meeting between Brahimi and US and Russian representatives on the Syrian crisis in January.

"We will hear what 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," he said.

"But this will be in January, after the (Russian New Year) holidays," Bogdanov said.

Brahimi calls for ‘change’

The past week has seen Brahimi step up efforts to find a resolution to nearly two years of violence in Syria, which has killed at least 44,000 people.

Speaking in the Syrian capital of Damascus at the end of a five-day trip to the country, during which he met President Bashar al-Assad, Brahimi called for a transitional government to rule until elections, saying only significant change would meet the demands of ordinary Syrians.

Brahimi’s push for a transitional government suggested he was trying to build on an international agreement in Geneva six months ago which said a provisional body - which might include members of Assad’s government as well as the opposition - should lead the country into a new election.

But the mainly Sunni Muslim Syrian rebels have seized the military initiative since the Geneva meeting in June and the political opposition has ruled out any transitional government in which Assad, from Syria’s Alawite minority, plays a role.

“Certainly it was clear in Geneva, and it’s even clearer now that the change which is needed is not cosmetic or superficial,” Brahimi told a news conference in Damascus before leaving Syria.

“I believe the Syrian people need, want and aspire to genuine change and everyone knows what this means,” he said.

“A government must be created ... with all the powers of the state,” Brahimi added. He said it should hold power for a transitional period until elections - either for a new president or a new parliament - are held.

“This transitional process must not lead to the ... collapse of state institutions. All Syrians, and those who support them, must cooperate to preserve those institutions and strengthen them,” he said.

Yet Radwan Ziadeh of the opposition Syrian National Council dismissed Brahimi’s proposal as “unrealistic and fanciful” and said a transitional government could not be built on the same “security and intelligence structure as the existing regime”.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2012-12-28

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