MOSCOW, February 13 (RIA Novosti) – Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and opposition leader Al-Khatib will visit Moscow in late February, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said on Wednesday.
“The date of [Muallem’s] visit has not been agreed on yet, but we act on the assumption that it will take place quite soon. We will agree on an acceptable date within the next several days,” he said in an interview with RIA Novosti.
Al-Khatib, the leader of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (SNCROF), will visit Moscow within the next two to three weeks, Bogdanov said.
“Naturally, they [the Syrian opposition] are interested in this [visit to Moscow]. I believe the visits will take place within the next two or three weeks. The dates will need to be finalized,” Bogdanov said.
He said al-Khatib had met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of a security conference in Munich on February 2, where Lavrov confirmed the invitation for al-Khatib to visit Moscow.
SNCROF was formed on November 11, 2012 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.
In December Al-Khatib rejected an invitation from Russia to discuss a peaceful resolution of the Syrian crisis. In an interview with Al Jazeera television he said he wanted an apology from Moscow for having supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Russia has faced strong international criticism over its refusal to back UN sanctions against Syria, its last ally in the Arab world, over what it calls the pro-rebel bias of some resolutions proposed by Western nations.
Syria has been locked in an increasingly bloody civil war since demonstrations broke out against President Assad in March 2011. According to UN estimates, at least 60,000 people have been killed in the 22-month-long conflict, and more than 700,000 have been forced to flee Syria.