UN ready to host Syria peace talks ‘immediately’

Russian foreign minister says he hopes for an agreement on the Syrian opposition list



Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, and UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura leave a news conference following their talks in Moscow on Wednesday. AP

Moscow: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed hope Wednesday that diplomats will agree on a list of opposition groups that should be invited to UN-brokered peace talks on Syria.

Moscow previously lamented there is no agreement in the US-led coalition in Syria on who should be declared legitimate opposition to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s government – or should be targeted like Daesh.

Lavrov told reporters in Moscow that he hopes for an agreement on the Syrian opposition list as well as on a list of extremist groups that “will not be covered by a cease-fire that we hope to declare at some point.”

Lavrov spoke after meeting with UN Syrian envoy Staffan de Mistura, who was in Moscow after a visit to Damascus.

De Mistura called on Middle Eastern and Western nations to “use their influence” on various opposition groups they back in Syria “so that these groups come to political talks with a constructive platform.”

He also said the UN is ready to host talks between the Syrian government and the opposition “immediately.”

Russia and Western nations have been engaged in intense diplomatic talks in the past few weeks, aiming to bring about a political settlement in Syria, which has been torn by a civil war since 2011 that has killed 250,000 people and forced millions to flee.

Russia has been Al Assad’s strongest backer and began carrying out air strikes on Daesh terrorists in Syria in September at Al Assad’s request. Al Assad made a surprise visit to Moscow last month, which was viewed as a signal that Russia ultimately seeks a political settlement after weeks of heavy airstrikes in Syria.

Lavrov’s deputy Mikhail Bogdanov said Tuesday that Moscow is aiming to host a round of talks between Syrian officials and opposition leaders next week. He said the Syrian government has agreed to participate but it’s unclear which opposition groups might come.