Moscow calls for agreement on opposition groups in Syria

AP News
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Posted: Nov 04, 2015 7:09 AM
Moscow calls for agreement on opposition groups in Syria

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed hope Wednesday that diplomats will agree on a list of opposition groups that should be invited to U.N.-brokered peace talks on Syria.

Moscow previously lamented there is no agreement in the U.S.-led coalition in Syria on who should be declared legitimate opposition to Syrian President Bashar Assad's government — or should be targeted like the Islamic State group.

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 U.N. 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 U.N. 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 Assad's strongest backer and began carrying out air strikes on Islamic State fighters in Syria in September at Assad's request. 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.