Russia is pressing the Syrian leadership to put into action previous pledges for dialogue with the opposition, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday.
“We actively encouraged... the Syrian leadership to maximally put into action its declared readiness for dialogue with the opposition,” Lavrov told reporters when asked about his meeting Thursday with Syria’s deputy foreign minister.
In a joint press conference held for Lavrov and his Egyptian counterpart, Kamel Amro, the Russia foreign minister insisted that it is only the Syrian people that decide if President Bashar al-Assad’s regime must go.
Lavrov and Amro both agreed to reject any foreign intervention in Syria and said an interim government must take place to ensure a unified and democratic Syria.
Meanwhile, Russia, one of the few powers to maintain links with the Syrian regime of President Assad, has sent an invitation for talks to the head of the opposition Syria National Coalition, a top diplomat said Friday.
Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told the RIA Novosti news agency the talks with National Coalition head Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib could take place in Moscow or a foreign location like Geneva or Cairo.
“The invitation has been handed over, it is in the hands of Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib,” AFP reported Bogdanov as saying.
Russia has so far strongly criticized moves by Western and anti-Assad Arab states to recognize the National Coalition as legitimate representatives of the Syrian people since the group was formed last month.
Yet Russia is also involved in a frantic round of year-end diplomacy seeking to end the crisis.
A Syrian deputy foreign minister visited Moscow on Thursday and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is to meet U.N.-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in the Russian capital on Saturday.
Russia had already indicated it was ready to hold talks with the Syrian opposition who until now have regarded Moscow with suspicion over its refusal to break ties with the Assad regime.
Bogdanov also said he expected there to be a new three-way meeting between Brahimi and U.S. and Russian representatives on the Syrian crisis in January.
“We will hear what Lakhdar Brahimi says about the Syrian crisis and likely there will be a decision on a new ‘triple B’ meeting with Lakhdar Brahimi, (US Deputy Secretary of State) William Burns and Mikhail Bogdanov,” he said.
“But this will be in January, after the (Russian New Year) holidays,” Bogdanov said.
Meanwhile, Russia and the U.N called Thursday for the resuscitation of a peace initiative for Syria that never got off the ground when it was proposed months ago because both parties to the conflict rejected it.
Assad’s government did not comment on the attempt to revive the proposal, and a coordinator for the rebels seeking to end Assad’s rule called the plan “illogical.”
“No one in the opposition can accept this, and if they accept it, it will be refused by the Syrian people,” the Associated Press reported Bassam Al-Dada, a Turkey-based coordinator with the rebel Free Syrian Army, as saying. He said Assad’s forces have killed too many people for him to play a role in any solution.
Anti-regime activists say more than 40,000 people have been killed since the revolt against Assad began in March 2011.