MOSCOW — Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said there is still time to end the violence in Syria if the opposition agrees to talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government. United Nations Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who has traveled to Russia, said if that does not happen and a deal is not struck, "hell" and more bloodshed will occur.
In talks in Moscow with Brahimi, Lavrov said that the chance for a political solution remains and that it is Russia’s obligation to encourage dialogue with both Assad’s regime and the opposition.
Lavrov said this is essential because Assad is not going anywhere. He noted that Assad has repeatedly stated he is not going to leave, that he will remain in office until the very end and that he will defend the Syrian people and his country’s sovereignty. Lavrov went on to say there is no way to change Assad’s position.
On Friday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told the RIA Novosti news agency that Moscow sent an invitation for talks to the Syrian National Council, the main exiled opposition group recognized by many as the legitimate government of Syria. This came after a spokesman for the Syrian coalition said the group would accept any solution that excludes Assad and his aides.
Opposition leader Mouaz al-Khatib said in an interview Friday on al-Jazeera TV, that he had ruled out a trip to Russia and wanted an apology from Moscow for its support of Assad. Moscow has consistently maintained it does not support Assad, merely the Syrian people.
Brahimi said the situation is tenuous.
"The only alternative is really hell or political process. Then we have got all of us to work ceaselessly for political process," he said. "It is difficult, it is very complicated, but there is no other choice, except that route if we really want to be a responsible international community and want to help the Syrians also be a little bit more responsible towards their country and people."
Earlier in the week, Brahimi had called for an interim government to be established in Syria until elections could be held.
Moscow has refused to back three rounds of sanctions against its Middle Eastern ally. Russian President Vladimir Putin repeatedly has said it is not the United Nations Security Council’s job to oust a government.
More than 40,000 people have died in Syria’s 21-month civil war.