Russia, Iran welcome Syrian talks proposal

  • Article by: PATRICK J. MCDONNELL
  • Los Angeles Times
  • February 3, 2013 - 9:28 PM

BEIRUT - A faint glimmer of hope of breaking the diplomatic standoff on Syria has emerged as two key allies, Russia and Iran, reacted positively to a leading opposition figure's surprise offer of conditional talks with the government of Bashar Assad.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Iranian counterpart, Ali Akbar Salehi, seemed to give their blessings to an effort by Syrian opposition figure Moaz Khatib to open talks with Assad.

Russia and Iran are widely viewed as the only international powers able to exert influence or pressure on Assad, who has vowed not to step down despite an almost two-year rebellion that has left tens of thousands dead, millions homeless and much of the country in ruins.

Khatib, who heads a Western-backed dissident coalition forged in November, broke a taboo among many opposition groups and declared last week that he would be willing to speak with Assad's representatives under two conditions -- the release of 160,000 prisoners and the renewal of passports for Syrian exiles.

"As a gesture of goodwill, we say, just to ease the pain of the Syrian people ... we are ready to sit at the negotiating table with the regime," Khatib said, adding that he still favored overthrowing Assad "by peaceful means."

Meanwhile, in the battlefield city of Aleppo in northern Syria, at least 16 people were killed when government planes bombed a building in a rebel-held neighborhood, activists said. Troops loyal to Assad and rebels have been locked in a deadly stalemate in Aleppo, the country's largest urban center, since last summer.

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