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Syria agrees informal opposition talks in Moscow: Russia


Russia on Monday said the Syrian authorities have agreed to a Russian offer to hold informal talks in Moscow with opposition representatives to resolve the crisis in the country.

Russia had suggested to both the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and the opposition that they should meet in Moscow for "informal contacts" without any preconditions, the foreign ministry said.

"Our offer has already received a positive response from the Syrian authorities. We are expecting that the opposition will also give their assent in the next days and put the interests of the Syrian people before any other ideas," it said.

Moscow's diplomatic moves come at a time of mounting concern that the clashes between the opposition and regime forces have become even deadlier with 80 people killed across Syria on Sunday alone, according to activists.

This is on top of what the United Nations said at the start of January already amounted to 5,400 deaths in the standoff.

Russia also appears keen to prove it is playing a constructive role to defuse the crisis, amid mounting Western frustration over Moscow's refusal to support a UN Security Council resolution condemning the Assad regime.

The foreign ministry said that the talks in Moscow were "acutely necessary for the immediate cessation of all violence in Syria and preventing a bloody split in society."

They would also help ensure the "success for profound democratic changes in the country, in line with the hopes of all Syrians."

Russia said its offer to host talks was motivated by its desire to see an end to the crisis "through a peaceful mechanism worked out by the Syrians themselves, without international interference."

Moscow still maintains close ties with the secular regime in Damascus that were cultivated under Assad's father and strongman predecessor Hafez al-Assad and extend to having a naval base in the country and supplying arms.