Syrian government ‘ready for dialogue’

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iol pic wld Russia Syria~2 AP Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, welcomes Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, left, in Moscow.

Moscow - Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said on Monday Damascus was ready to talk to the country's armed opposition, Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported.

“We are ready for dialogue with everyone who wants it ... Even with those who have weapons in their hands. Because we believe that reforms will not come through bloodshed but only through dialogue,” he said before talks in Moscow with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Itar-Tass did not report any further comments by the minister on the prospect for talks, and did not make clear whether the government had any conditions for starting dialogue.

“What's happening in Syria is a war against terrorism,” the agency quoted him as saying. “We will strongly adhere to a peaceful course and continue to fight against terrorism.”

The opposition Syrian National Coalition has said it is willing to negotiate a peace deal to end the country's civil war but that President Bashar al-Assad must step down and cannot be a party to any settlement.

Moualem's comments echoed remarks last week by another Syrian government minister, Ali Haidar, who is not in Assad's inner circle of decision-makers.

Russia has used its clout in the UN Security Council to protect Assad from Western and Arab pressure though 22 months of violence that has killed nearly 70 000 people in Syria since it began with a government crackdown on protests.

Moscow says Assad's exit from power must not be a precondition for a political settlement. - Reuters


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