BEIRUT

Middle East

Russia to hold talks with Syrian opposition, Annan

MOSCOW: Russia will hold talks with two Syrian opposition groups and with U.N. envoy Kofi Annan later this month, a Russian news agency reported after a weekend of stalled efforts to stop the bloodshed in Syria.

Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov was quoted by the RIA Novosti agency as saying Syrian opposition leader Michel Kilo will arrive later this week, while Abdulbaset Sieda, the new head of the Syrian National Council, another opposition group, will visit Moscow after July 10.

An unnamed Russian diplomat also told RIA that Annan is expected in Moscow by mid-July.

The talks are "important because we have to do our best to implement Kofi Annan's plan and decisions of the Geneva conference" held Saturday, Bogdanov was quoted as saying.

Russia is Syria's most important ally, protector and supplier of arms. Diplomatic hopes have rested on persuading Russia to agree to a plan that would end President Bashar Assad's family dynasty, which has ruled Syria for more than four decades.

Moscow's determination to preserve its last remaining ally in the Middle East has contradicted efforts by the U.S. and other Western powers to replace Assad with a democratic government. The Syrian uprising has killed some 14,000 people since it began in March 2011, turning the country into one of the world's most unstable regions. U.N. observers say the violence has stepped up significantly in the last two months.

 

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