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Russia Says Still Chance For Negotiated Syria Settlement

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right) and UN -Arab League peace mediator Lakhdar Brahimi speak at a joint news conference in Moscow on December 29.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says there is still a chance for a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Syria.

Speaking on December 29 in Moscow, he termed the Syrian opposition coalition's refusal to talk to the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "a dead end" and called for the return of the UN observer mission to Syria.

He also called on the Syrian rebels to drop their demand that Assad leave power.

"I would like today, by the means of this microphone, to call on the Syrian opposition to leave aside this factor that unites them -- the demand of Assad leaving power -- and instead to formulate a constructive agenda, and write down on paper this vision that the opposition has for Syria's future," Lavrov said.

Lavrov said Assad had no intention of stepping down and that no-one, including the Syrian president's close ally Russia, could make him do so.

Lavrov was speaking after a meeting with UN-Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi.

The international mediator said there were two alternatives for Syria: a political process or "hell."

During his visit to Moscow, Brahimi is expected to seek Russia's backing for a proposal to set up a transitional government in Syria as a step toward ending the conflict.

Following talks in Moscow with his Egyptian counterpart, Muhammad Amr, on December 28, Lavrov the international community must stop pressuring Assad to step down and should avoid establishing preconditions for negotiations.

"The international community should not incite any party to continue bloodshed or put forward any preconditions but encourage all fighting parties to take the path outlined by the Geneva communique," Lavrov said.

In Geneva in June, officials representing the five permanent member of the UN Security Council and several other Middle Eastern states agreed on steps for establishing a transitional government in Syria.

At the December 28 news conference, Lavrov said that Moscow was prepared to meet with members of the Syrian opposition.

Based on reporting by dpa and Reuters