UPDATE 1-Russia urges Syrian govt to pursue dialogue with opponents

Steve Gutterman
Reuters Middle East

* Brahimi in Moscow Saturday to discuss peace proposals

* Russia has invited head of opposition Syrian National


* World powers divided over Assad's role in transition

* Moscow says Assad's exit cannot be precondition for talks

MOSCOW, Dec 28 (Reuters) - Russia urged the Syrian

government on Friday to act on its stated readiness for dialogue

with its opponents, throwing its weight behind a diplomatic push

to end a 21-month-old conflict in Syria.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he had urged

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Makdad to emphasize his

government's openness to dialogue with the opposition during

talks in Moscow on Thursday.

"We actively encouraged... the Syrian leadership to make as

concrete as possible its declared readiness for dialogue with

the opposition," Lavrov told reporters after talks with his

Egyptian counterpart Mohamed Kamel Amr in Moscow.

He said the Syrian government should stress its readiness

for talks on the widest possible range of matters, in line with

an international agreement in Geneva last June calling for a

transitional government.

"I think a realistic and detailed assessment of the

situation inside Syria will prompt reasonable opposition members

to seek ways to start a political dialogue," added Lavrov, who

last week said that neither side would win by force.

Russia expects to meet a senior U.S. diplomat on Syria next

month to discuss with international Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi

his plans to end the civil war there, the Kremlin's envoy to the

region said earlier on Friday.

Brahimi will visit Moscow on Saturday for talks on the

results of his negotiations with Syrian President Bashar

al-Assad and his opponents during a five-day trip to Damascus in

which he called for political change to end the bloodshed.

"We will listen to what Lakhdar Brahimi has to say about the

situation in Syria and after that, probably, there will be a

decision to hold a new meeting of the 'three Bs'," Deputy

Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told the RIA news agency - in

a word play on the first letter of the diplomats' last names.


Bogdanov, U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns and

Brahimi, the joint special representative of the United Nations

and the Arab League, agreed that a political solution to the

crisis was necessary and possible in talks earlier this month.

Bogdanov, the Kremlin's special envoy for Middle East

Affairs, said the three would meet again in January after the

holiday period.

Russia has also invited the head of the

internationally-recognised, opposition Syrian National Council,

Moaz al-Khatib, to talks, he said, in comments that appeared

underline Moscow's commitment to helping Brahimi seek a way out

of the crisis.

Russia has been critical of the Western backing for the

Syrian National Council trying to oust Assad.

Brahimi, who has called for a transitional government to

rule until elections, is trying to broker a peaceful transfer of

power in Syria, where more than 44,000 people have been killed

in a revolt against four decades of Assad family rule.

What role Assad and members of his government might play in

a transitional body - a plan outlined in Geneva six months ago -

has divided world powers.

Past peace efforts have floundered as what began as peaceful

protests in March 2011 turned into civil war. The conflict has

become an increasingly sectarian struggle between mostly Sunni

Muslim rebels and Assad's security forces, drawn primarily from

his Shi'ite-rooted Alawite minority.

World powers believe Russia, which has given Assad military

and diplomatic aid during the uprising, has the ear of Syria's

government and must be a central player in any peace talks.

Moscow has tried to distance itself from Assad in recent

months and has denied it is not propping him up. But it

maintains Assad's exit cannot be a precondition for talks and

has repeatedly said Western powers should not impose solutions

on Syria.

Lavrov warned on Thursday that time was running out to find

a peaceful solution to the conflict and halt a descent into

"bloody chaos".

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