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Syria Says to Discuss Russia Peace Plan Talks


Rebel fighters walk around al-Hamidiyeh base, one of two military posts they took control of from forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the northwestern province of Idlib, Dec. 15, 2014.

Rebel fighters walk around al-Hamidiyeh base, one of two military posts they took control of from forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the northwestern province of Idlib, Dec. 15, 2014.

Syria said on Saturday it is willing to participate in "preliminary consultations" in Moscow aimed at restarting peace talks next year to end its civil war.

But members of the Western-backed Syrian opposition dismissed the Russian plan on Saturday, saying there was "no initiative."

Syrian state television quoted a source at the foreign ministry saying "Syria is ready to participate in preliminary consultations in Moscow in order to meet the aspirations of Syrians to find a way out of crisis."

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

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said this month that he wanted Syrian opposition groups to agree among themselves on a common approach before setting up direct talks with the Damascus government.

But Lavrov did not specify which opposition groups should take part. Some opposition groups are tolerated by Damascus but shunned by the opposition in exile.

Hadi al-Bahra, head of the Turkey-based opposition National Coalition, met with Arab League Chief Nabil Elaraby in Cairo on Saturday and told a news conference that “there is no initiative as rumored.”

“Russia does not have a clear initiative, and what is called for by Russia is just a meeting and dialogue in Moscow, with no specific paper or initiative,” he was quoted by Egyptian state news agency MENA as saying.

Russia has long backed Assad, including with arms supplies for Syria, but he has become a more important ally for Moscow since the 2011 Arab Spring protests toppled several autocrats in the Middle East, some of whom had close ties with Moscow.

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