MOSCOW, December 29 (RIA Novosti) – Russian diplomats are ready to meet with the leader of the Syrian opposition in a neutral country for peace talks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday.
“We had contacts through our embassy in Egypt with representatives of the National Coalition, including Mr. Khatib [Syrian opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib],” he said.
“We expressed readiness to meet with him in Moscow but at that moment he preferred some neutral capital, some other country. We are also ready for that,” he said during a meeting with UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi.
On Friday, al-Khatib rejected an invitation from Russia for peace talks. In an interview on AlJazeera television he said he wanted an apology from Moscow for its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“We have clearly said we will not go to Moscow. We could meet in an Arab country if there was a clear agenda,” he said. “Now we also want an apology from Lavrov because all this time he said that the people will decide their destiny, without foreign intervention. Russia is intervening and meanwhile all these massacres of the Syrian people have happened, treated as if they were a picnic.”
“If we don’t represent the Syrian people, why do they invite us?” Alkhatib said. “And 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?”
Lavrov reiterated Moscow’s position that there is no way to “persuade Assad to leave.”
“He has repeatedly stated, both publicly and non-publicly, that he will not step down and is determined to defend the Syrian people,” Lavrov said.
The National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (SNCROF) was formed on November 11 in Doha, Qatar and proclaimed itself the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. Its legitimacy has since been recognized by Western powers but questioned by Moscow.
The conflict between the Assad regime and opposition forces in Syria has claimed the lives of more than 30,000 people since March 2011, according to UN figures.