Middle East

Russia's Lavrov says fighting "terrorism" should unite Syrian opposition, Damascus

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, gesturing at center left, welcomes participants of consultations between representatives of the Syrian government and the Syrian opposition in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

MOSCOW: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged the Syrian opposition and representatives of the Damascus government Wednesday to join forces to combat the threat of terrorism.

Talks between elements of the Syrian opposition - not including the Western-backed National Coalition - and government representatives began in Moscow as an attempt to revive stalled peace efforts in the four-year conflict; but expectations are low that they will yield a breakthrough.

"We believe that the understanding by politicians and leading representatives of civil society of the necessity to join forces to combat this common threat [of terrorism] should become the key for the resurrection of the unity of the Syrian nation," Lavrov told both sides during talks.

The main Syrian political opposition, the Western-backed National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, has shunned the meeting in Moscow, saying it would only take part in talks that lead to Assad leaving power.

More than 30 representatives of the Syrian opposition held talks among themselves in Moscow Monday and Tuesday and came up with a list of issues to raise when Damascus envoys join them Wednesday.

Most, but not all, representatives of the opposition agreed on the list, participants said, which includes demands to end bombing of civilians by all sides of the conflict, free political prisoners and address the problem of kidnappings.

Qadri Jamil, formerly a senior official in President Bashar Assad's government who joined the opposition, said other requirements were to allow food supplies to all Syrian regions, set up a human rights body and end sanctions slapped on Syria.

He said another provision was that any restart of the peace process must be based on the agreements reached in 2012 in Geneva. A document approved by rival sides there called for creating a transitional governing body formed by mutual consent.

But rival sides and their foreign backers, including Russia and the United States, have differed on what that means for Assad. His fate remains a key sticking point in the conflict, which has killed more than 200,000 people.

Jamil said Assad's future was not discussed in Moscow, which has been a long-standing ally of Damascus. The Syrian government delegation in Moscow refused immediate comment.

"Everyone is realistic now, this is not on the agenda. We are talking about the most pressing issues. Before Assad's fate comes the fate of the Syrian nation. This is the priority now, we will discuss other issues later on," Jamil said.

Monzer Akbik of the Turkey-based National Coalition, not attending the meeting, said:

"Anything but a genuine and irreversible change of power, transition towards democracy is not going to solve the Syrian crisis.

"Qadri Jamil was in Assad's cabinet... I wouldn't call him a member of the opposition. He is part of the regime."





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