Lakhdar Brahimi, the Special envoy to Syria, has met with President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus to discuss a solution to the country’s 21-month-old conflict.
Brahimi told journalists after the meeting on Monday that they discussed the overall situation in Syria and shared his views with Assad on how to solve the crisis. He said conditions in the country were still poor.
Brahimi’s trip is his third to Damascus since taking his post in August.
A deadlock had prevailed between the West and Russia over whether President Assad should step down or not. Russia had said the international community did not have the right to exclude anyone, not even Assad.
Diplomats told Al Jazeera that this deadlock seemed to be easing.
Russian position ‘evolved’
Talks among the UN, US and Russia earlier in December “have signalled that the position of one party [Russia] has evolved,” a diplomat told Al Jazeera.
“We speak of dialogue with those who believe in national dialogue“
– Omran al-Zoubi,
“US and Russia’s positions are now closer to each other, closer than it was six months ago,” the diplomat said.
On Thursday, Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, said his country’s main concern in Syria is the fate of the country and not of Assad.
“We are not concerned about the fate of Assad’s regime. We understand what is going on there,” Putin said.
“What is our position? Not to leave Assad’s regime in power at any price, but to first [let the Syrians] agree among themselves how they should live next.”
Brahimi, who represents the UN and the Arab League, has made little apparent progress toward brokering an end violence since he assumed his post, mostly because neither side appears interested in talks.
During his previous five-day stay in October, he held meetings with Assad and other top Syrian officials over a tentative ceasefire for the Muslim Eid al-Adha feast. Despite pledges, the truce did not hold.
‘Negotiations may drag on’
Diplomats told Al Jazeera that it is not likely that a transitional government would be announced during Brahimi’s current visit, saying negotiations may drag on for some time.
In a news conference on Sunday, Omran al-Zoubi, Syria’s information minister, repeated the Syrian government’s line that it is fighting “terrorist groups” backed by foreign powers who seek to destroy Syria.
Al-Zoubi said the government was willing to engage in dialogue but said the other side wasn’t.
“We speak of dialogue with those who believe in national dialogue,” he said. “But those who rejected dialogue in their statements and called for arms and use of weapons, that’s a different issue. They don’t want dialogue.”
Rebel groups refuse to talk to Assad, demanding that he step down instead.
Al-Zoubi equated the rebels with al-Qaeda and denied that they had taken over any territory.
Meanwhile, also on Monday, foreign ministers from the Gulf Co-operation Council states are due to hold a meeting in the Bahraini capital Manama to discuss the Syrian crisis, among other issues.