Russia urged opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday to hold talks with the government, hoping to secure a peaceful resolution to months of violence without abandoning its support for the isolated leader.
In high-level talks in Moscow, the main Syrian National Council opposition group responded by urging Russia to join growing international calls for Assad to step down, Russia's Interfax news agency reported.
Russia joined China last month in a double veto of a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have condemned Syria's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, and has accused the West of discouraging dialogue between Assad and opponents.
In meetings with the delegation, senior Russian diplomats urged all Syrian opposition groups that reject violence ... to immediately join in the realisation of the Arab League initiative to resolve the crisis in Syria through the launch of dialogue between the Syrian authorities and the opposition, the Foreign Ministry said.
Syrian National Council head Burhan Ghalioun, however, said Russia and the international community should first send an important signal and demand the resignation of Bashar al-Assad, Interfax reported.
(Writing by Steve Gutterman, Editing by Timothy Heritage)