Syria ‘ready’ for peace talks with opposition

Government official says regime willing to take part in Russian initiative but opposition expresses caution.

An estimated 200,000 people have been killed in Syria during the war [Getty Images]

Syria is ready to meet the country’s opposition in Moscow in an effort to find a way out of the nearly four-year civil war, a government official has said.

“Syria is ready to participate in a preliminary and consultative meeting in Moscow to respond to the aspirations of Syrians who are trying to find a solution to the crisis,” the foreign ministry official said on Saturday, quoted by SANA state news agency.

“The Syrian Arab Republic has always been ready for dialogue with those who believe in its unity, sovereignty and freedom of choice,” the official said.

The western-backed Syrian opposition has insisted that any negotiated settlement include the formation of a transitional governing body with full executive powers, a demand rejected by President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

Hadi al-Hahra, head of the Turkey-based Syrian National Coalition, the main opposition bloc, said it had not yet made a decision on the talks.

“We can’t give a response to something that’s still hanging in the air,” Bahra said. “There are no invitations, and what are they inviting us to? Is there a negotiations framework? Who will come? What is the aim?”

Assad backing

Russia has been trying to relaunch peace talks for Syria that would include meetings between delegates of the regime and the fractured opposition.

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Moscow said on Thursday that it planned to host delegations from the Syrian opposition in late January, possibly followed by a visit by regime representatives that could bring the two sides together for talks.

Assad has said he backs the efforts by his key ally.

Joshua Landis, professor of Middle East studies at the University of Oklahoma, said the US was unlikely to throw its weight behind any Russian-initiated talks since Moscow insists that Assad should stay in power.

“The US is bombing Assad’s major enemies, ISIL and al-Qaeda, but at the same time they don’t want to talk to Assad,” he told Al Jazeera. “They don’t want to have anything to do with him.”

Syrian government and opposition representatives met face-to-face for the first time on January 25. Two rounds of talks in Geneva ended three weeks later without tangible results.

Syria’s war began as a pro-democracy revolt, but escalated into a multi-sided civil war drawing foreign fighters after Assad’s regime began a massive crackdown on dissent.

An estimated 200,000 people have been killed, and half the population have been forced to flee their homes.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies