World Bulletin/News Desk
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said on Monday Damascus was ready to talk to the country's armed opposition, Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported.
"We are ready for dialogue with everyone who wants it ... Even with those who have weapons in their hands. Because we believe that reforms will not come through bloodshed but only through dialogue," the minister said during a visit to Moscow for talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
The opposition Syrian National Coalition has said it is willing to negotiate a peace deal to end the country's civil war but that President Bashar al-Assad must step down and cannot be a party to any settlement.
The Syrian FM claimed that there are rebel fighters from some 30 foreign countries engaging in fighting in Syria at the moment.
Itar-Tass did not report any further comments by the minister on the prospect for talks, and did not make clear whether the government had any conditions for starting dialogue.
"What's happening in Syria is a war against terrorism," the agency quoted him as saying. "We will strongly adhere to a peaceful course and continue to fight against terrorism."
Moualem's comments echoed remarks last week by another Syrian government minister, Ali Haidar, who is not in Assad's inner circle of decision-makers.
Moaz al-Khatib, head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, told reporters in Cairo he had not yet been in contact with Damascus about any talks, but said he had postponed trips to Russia and the United States "until we see how things develop".
"We have not been in contact yet, and we are waiting for communication with them," Syrian National Coalition leader Moaz Alkhatib told reporters in Cairo after Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said Damascus was ready to talk.
Alkhatib also said opposition visits to the United States and Russia had been delayed "until we see how things develop".
But he added: "We will go to any place that could lead to the removal of the suffering of our people."
The coalition head criticised Russia for what he said was its refusal to condemn the killing of civilians by President Bashar al-Assad's military.
"This is an unacceptable position. The silent states are participating in the massacre of the Syrian people," he said.
Syria's government and opposition have both suggested in recent weeks they are prepared for some contacts - softening their previous outright rejection of talks to resolve a conflict which has driven nearly a million Syrians out of the country and left millions more homeless and hungry.
But the opposition has said any political solution to the crisis must be based on the removal of Assad, whose family has ruled Syria since 1970. The government has rejected any pre-conditions for talks aimed at ending the violence, which started as a peaceful pro-democracy uprising.
The two sides also differ on the location for any talks, with the opposition saying they should be abroad or in rebel-held parts of Syria. Assad's government says any serious dialogue must be held on Syrian territory under its control.
Adding to the difficulty of any negotiated settlement is the lack of influence that Syria's political opposition - mostly operating outside the country - has over the rebel forces on the ground who appear determined to fight on until Assad goes.
U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said Assad had told him he intended to remain president until his term ends in 2014 and would then run for re-election.
Assad, announcing plans last month for a national dialogue to address the crisis, said that there would be no dialogue with people he called traitors or "puppets made by the West".
"No talks before Assad goes"
A Syrian rebel leader said on Monday there could be no negotiations to end the civil war until President Bashar al-Assad stepped down and leaders of the army and security forces were put on trial.
"We will not go (into talks) unless these demands are realised," Brigadier Selim Idris, head of a military command, told Al Arabiya Television.
He was speaking after Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said in Moscow the government was ready to hold talks with Assad's armed opponents.
Last Mod: 25 Şubat 2013, 13:30