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Damascus Says It's Ready For Prisoner Exchange, Cease-Fire

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem (left) with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right) before a meeting in Moscow on January 17
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem (left) with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right) before a meeting in Moscow on January 17

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By RFE/RL
Syria says it is prepared to exchange lists with rebel forces on a possible prisoner exchange.

Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem made the announcement following talks in Moscow on January 17 with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.

"I also informed Minister Lavrov about our fundamental position to agree to an exchange of prisoners in Syrian prisons with those captured by the other side," Moallem said. "In that regard, we are ready to exchange the lists and to work out an arrangement about how to achieve all that."

Moallem also said he had handed Russia plans for a cease-fire in Syria's biggest city, Aleppo.

"In that regard, I asked Minister Lavrov to use his contacts to implement this plan and to establish a specific time when all military actions in this area should be ceased."

If such a cease-fire held, Moallem added, similar agreements could be introduced for other Syrian cities.

Lavrov said Moallem had informed him of President Bashar al-Assad's readiness "to take a series of humanitarian steps" that would lead to the speedy delivery of assistance to those suffering from the 34-month civil war.

The meeting between the Russian and Syrian sides came ahead of next week’s international peace talks on Syria.

Syria's main political opposition is currently gathering in Istanbul to decide whether to go to the conference due to begin in Switzerland on January 22.

Lavrov urged the Syrian National Coalition (SCN) to put Syria's interests above its own ambitions.

"Of course we are worried that while the government of Syria already a long time ago expressed its agreement to take part in the conference, and already formed its delegation, so far there have not been similar steps on behalf of the opposition, first of all by the so-called National Coalition. This process is being dragged out."

The SNC is under pressure from the United States and its allies to participate in the talks, dubbed Geneva 2, though many of its members have already pulled out.

The coalition says the conference should lead to a transitional government with no future role for Assad and his inner circle. Damascus says there should be no preconditions for the talks.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on January 16 that the United States "urges a positive vote."

He described the Swiss peace conference as the beginning of a process "that is the best opportunity for the opposition to achieve the goals of the Syrian people and the revolution".

Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters

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