MOSCOW (AP) — Syrian President Bashar Assad's proposals for ending his country's civil war should be taken into account by the international community, Russian officials insisted Wednesday, even though Assad's ideas were rejected by the Syrian opposition and drew harsh Western criticism.
Russia's Foreign Ministry said senior Russian and U.S. diplomats will discuss possible ways to settle the Syrian crisis during talks later this week with the U.N. envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi. The ministry said as part of international efforts to help negotiate an end to Syria's civil war "some of the ideas" voiced by Assad should be considered.
In a rare speech Sunday, Assad offered a plan that would keep him in power to oversee a national reconciliation conference, a national election and a new government. He dismissed any chance of talks with the armed opposition, however, and vowed to continue the battle "as long as there is one terrorist left," a term the government uses for the rebels.
The opposition rejected Assad's offer, which also was denounced by the West, including the U.S. and Britain.
The talks on Syria involving Brahimi, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns are to take place Friday in Geneva.
Russia has blocked several U.N. resolutions aimed at pressuring Assad, but Moscow says it is not propping up his regime. Top Russian officials in recent weeks have signaled that they are resigned to Assad eventually losing power.
The war in Syria has killed over 60,000 people and forced hundreds of millions to flee the country since it began in March 2011, according to the U.N.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters that Brahimi would lead the meeting.
"He got a chance to talk to Assad. He's talked to the opposition. He now will refine, presumably, some of the ideas that he had about how a transitional government ... could go forward," she said.
"We saw him reflecting the views of the vast majority of the Syrians that we talk to, that 40 years is more than enough for the Assad family," she added.
Matthew Lee contributed from Washington.