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Syrian Gov't 'Ready' For Peace Talks

Syrian state media says the government is ready to attend peace talks that Moscow plans to hold next month.

The SANA news agency on December 27 quoted an unnamed Syrian Foreign Ministry official as saying the government 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 official said the decision followed talks between Syria and Russia about a possible meeting.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said on December 25 that it hoped to host peace talks in late January between the Syrian government and its fractured opposition.

Moscow, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has pushed to restart talks that collapsed in Geneva in February.

It is not clear whether any opposition groups will agree to attend the Russian talks.

Hadi al-Bahra, head of the Turkey-based opposition National Coalition, played down the Russian efforts, saying "Russia does not have a clear initiative."

"What is called for by Russia is just a meeting and dialogue in Moscow, with no specific paper or initiative," he said in remarks quoted December 27 by Egyptian state news agency MENA.

The Syrian conflict has claimed over 200,000 lives and displaced a third of the country's population since it began in 2011.

The conflict has also nurtured an extremist militant group, the Islamic State, which now controls some territories in Syria and neighboring Iraq.

The main Western-backed Syrian opposition has maintained that any deal must include the formation of a transitional governing body with full executive powers, a demand rejected by Assad's government.

The Syrian official quoted by SANA suggested that the Moscow meeting was only meant to pave the way for a "dialogue conference" to be held in Syria.

The talks in Moscow are aimed finding "agreement on convening a dialogue conference between the Syrians themselves, without any foreign intervention," the official said.

It is unclear whether Syria's opposition leaders in exile, or armed rebels on the ground, would attend a meeting hosted in a government-controlled area of the country.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and dpa
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