|Syria ready to talk with armed opposition: FM||
Syria is ready for talks with the armed opposition groups to restore peace in the country, Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said on Monday, in the clearest offer yet of negotiations with foreign-backed rebels fighting against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
“We are ready for dialogue with everyone who wants it… Even with those who have weapons in their hands. Because we believe that reforms will not come through bloodshed but only through dialogue,” Russia's Itar-Tass news agency quoted Moallem as saying.
He was speaking in Moscow at a meeting with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Itar-Tass did not report any other comments by Moallem on the chances for talks or on any conditions attached.
“What's happening in Syria is a war against terrorism,” the agency quoted him as saying. “We will strongly adhere to a peaceful course and continue to fight against terrorism.”
Moallem's comments echoed remarks last week by Minister for National Reconciliation Ali Haidar, who said he was ready to meet the armed opposition. But Haidar drew a distinction between what said might be “preparatory talks” and formal negotiations.
Assad, announcing plans last month for a national dialogue to address the crisis, said that there would be no dialogue with people he called traitors or “puppets made by the West”.
Moallem made his remarks a day after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry began a nine-nation tour of European and Arab nations in which the Syria conflict will be a main focus.
Kerry plans to meet Lavrov in Berlin on Tuesday and Syrian opposition leaders at a conference in Rome on Thursday, although it is unclear whether all will attend amid internal rows over the value of such international meetings while violence goes on.
Moaz al-Khatib, the head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, said in Cairo he had not had held any contacts about talks with Damascus, but had postponed trips to Russia and the United States “until we see how things develop”.
The Syrian government and the foreign-sponsored opposition groups have both suggested in recent weeks they are prepared for some contacts -- softening their previous outright rejection of talks to resolve a conflict which has driven nearly a million Syrians out of the country and left millions more homeless and hungry.
But the opposition groups have said any political solution must be based on the removal of Assad. Damascus has rejected any preconditions for talks aimed at ending the violence.
The two sides also differ on the location for any talks, with the opposition saying they should be abroad or in rebel-held parts of Syria. The Assad government says any serious dialogue must be held on Syrian territory under its control.
Adding to the difficulty of any negotiated settlement is the lack of influence that Syria's political opposition -- mostly operating outside the country -- has over rebels inside.
“We are following the development of events… with alarm,” Lavrov said in Moscow on Monday. “In our evaluation the situation is at a kind of crossroads. There are those who have set a course for further bloodshed and an escalation of conflict. This is fraught with the risk of the collapse of the Syrian state and society.
“But there are also reasonable forces that increasingly acutely understand the need for the swiftest possible start of talks… In these conditions the need for the Syrian leadership to continue to consistently advocate the start of dialogue, and not allow provocations to prevail, is strongly increasing.”
The Syrian National Coalition said on Friday it was willing to negotiate a peace deal, but insisted Assad could not be party to it -- a demand that the president looks sure to reject.
UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said Assad had told him he intended to remain president until his term ends in 2014 and would then run for re-election.
The political chasm between the government and rebels and a lack of opposition influence over rebel fighters has allowed fighting to rage on for 23 months in Syria.
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|Last Updated on 25 February 2013 18:04|