A handout picture released by SANA on September 29, 2013 shows President Bashar al-Assad gesturing during an interview with Italian television station Rai News 24 in Damascus
A handout picture released by SANA on September 29, 2013 shows President Bashar al-Assad gesturing during an interview with Italian television station Rai News 24 in Damascus © - SANA/AFP/File
A handout picture released by SANA on September 29, 2013 shows President Bashar al-Assad gesturing during an interview with Italian television station Rai News 24 in Damascus
AFP
Last updated: October 1, 2013

Russia says Assad could talk to moderate rebels

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Russia said on Tuesday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could engage in peace talks with the more moderate elements of the armed opposition at a meeting in Geneva next month.

"I do not rule out that the armed opposition, if it does not stand for extremist or terrorist views, could very well be represented," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters.

"By the way, this is something that President Assad has said as well."

World powers agreed last month to schedule the first direct negotiations between Assad's regime and the rebels in Geneva in mid-November.

The so-called Geneva 2 talks follow a failed round of negotiations between world powers over the crisis in the same city in June 2012.

Russia has backed Assad's government throughout the 30-month conflict and is the chief architect of a Syrian chemical weapons disarmament plan that was backed by the United Nations Security Council following the August 21 nerve agent attack near Damascus.

This year's Geneva meeting has been repeatedly delayed because of disagreements between Moscow and the West about who should be party to the talks.

Lavrov stressed that it was up to Western and Arab governments to make sure that representatives of the armed opposition agreed to attend the Geneva meeting despite growing differences among their ranks.

But he questioned whether the West could manage to do this by November.

"Until recently, we expected our Western partners, who committed themselves to bring the opposition to the conference, that they would be able to do this fairly quickly," Lavrov said.

"But they did not manage to do it quickly. I do not know if they will manage to do it by the middle of November."

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