Russia and the Arab League proposed on Wednesday to broker direct talks between the Syrian government and the opposition to end the country’s civil war, which Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described as “a road to nowhere.”
Speaking after league officials and several Arab foreign ministers attended a forum in Moscow on Russian-Arab cooperation, Lavrov said Russia was in talks with Syrian opposition leader Moaz Al-Khatib to decide the date of his visit, which will likely be in in early March, the state-owned RIA Novosti news agency reported.
The minister added that Moscow has also been preparing for a visit by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Moualem, due Monday.
“We’ve agreed to make use of the Arab League's potential to assist ... direct contact between the government and the Syrian opposition,” he said.
The Russian Foreign Minister said that so far Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime and Khatib’s opposition have been putting forward pre-conditions for talks.
“We are working to begin this dialog, and it’s up to the sides to discuss when and where it will be held. We will agree for any location” Lavrov said, adding that Moscow was ready to host the negotiations.
Both Lavrov and Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby said their priority was to launch a transitional government as early as possible.
“Launching a transitional period and forming a transitional government is of utmost importance. This isn’t easy, but we’ve agreed that this is the goal we must attain,” Elaraby said.
The new negotiation proposal however failed to draw immediate consensus from the Syrian opposition.
“We cannot agree to that,” Abdelbaset Sieda, a senior member of the Syrian National Coalition was quoted as saying by the Associated Press. “Assad and his group must go first. After that we can discuss with others in the regime who didn’t share in the killing of our people.”
Khatib had earlier offered to start negotiations with the regime only if Assad stood down and released tens of thousands of opposition supporters detained by the government.
Assad, in early January, said there would be no dialogue with people he called traitors or "puppets made by the West."
However, observers believe it is unlikely that Russia, Assad’s key international ally, would publicly propose to host talks unless it had secured the regime’s word that it would negotiate with the opposition.
Some 70,000 people have died since the uprising against President Bashar Al-Assad began in March 2011, according to a U.N. estimate.