MOSCOW — Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday urged Syria’s deputy foreign minister to engage in talks with the opposition in an attempt to end more than 21 months of civil war in Syria.
But an opposition leader responded by slamming Russia while activists showed no interest in talks with the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
After talks with his Egyptian counterpart in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Kremlin has consistently maintained that dialogue is necessary for progress and peace in Syria.
Lavrov said Russia has actively encouraged the Syrian leadership to show its readiness to talk to the opposition and discuss a wide variety of things agreed to in Geneva in June. The United States and Russia agreed to the Geneva Dialogue that supported talks with both sides of the conflict.
Earlier Friday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told the RIA Novosti news agency Moscow has sent an invitation for talks to the Syrian National Council, the main exiled opposition group recognized by many as the legitimate government of Syria.
On Thursday, a spokesman for the Syrian coalition said the group will accept any solution that excludes Mr. Assad and his aides.
Speaking at a news conference in Istanbul, Walid al-Bunni said the Syrian leadership has blood on its hands and must leave the country. Western powers and their Arab allies have backed opposition demands for Mr. Assad's ouster.
Opposition leader Mouaz al-Khatib said in an interview Friday on Al Jazeera television, that he had ruled out a trip to Russia and wanted an apology from Moscow for its support of Mr. Assad.
"We have clearly said we will not go to Moscow," he said. "We could meet in an Arab country if there was a clear agenda...We also want an apology from Lavrov because all this time he said that the people will decide their destiny, without foreign intervention. Russia is intervening and meanwhile all these massacres of the Syrian people have happened."
Russia has refused to back three rounds of United Nations resolutions against Mr. Assad’s government. Russian President Vladimir Putin says it is not the job of the U.N. Security Council to force the ouster of any government.
Many analysts see Russia, a long time ally of Syria, as the linchpin when it comes to resolving the conflict.
Russian influence waning
But Masha Lipman, an analyst with the Carnegie Center here in Moscow, said Russia's hold on Syria is waning.
"I think it has lost its influence in Syria," Lipman said. "It has no influence with Assad. Siding with Assad, even with reservations, was a lost cause from the beginning. It was clear that sooner or later his regime would fall and Russia would end up not as an ally with the new Syrian government whatever it is. I don’t think by making these halfway statements now Russia can change that."
International peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi called this week for an interim government in Syria until new elections can be held. Brahimi is expected to discuss the issue with leaders in Moscow in the coming days.
Meanwhile, opposition activists reported renewed fighting Friday throughout the country.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says one civilian was killed and dozens were wounded when government planes bombarded the Assal al-Ward area in Damascus province.
It said fighting also broke out overnight in areas surrounding the capital, as well as close to Syria's border with Jordan.