AMMAN/BEIRUT: A leading Syrian opposition source said the opposition would meet officials from the United States, Russia and the United Nations in Munich Saturday to discuss a political transition for Syria.
However, Russia’s deputy foreign minister played down the reports and declined to confirm the proposal.
If the meeting goes ahead it will be the first time that the United States and Russia, who have been at loggerheads over whether President Bashar Assad can have a role in a transitional government, sits with the opposition.
Syrian National Coalition officials said Friday that Coalition president Ahmad Moaz Khatib would meet U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi on the sidelines of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in Munich.
“Khatib was informed by Brahimi that it will be a four-way meeting. He is going to Munich alone,” a high-level Coalition member told Reuters.
“I think Russia warmed to the meeting after Khatib’s proposal [to talk to Syrian officials]. The Coalition has adopted a position of constructive vagueness on whether Assad should step down first for a transition to happen, and it has stirred things up.”
But shortly after, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov tweeted: “As it stands today, there is no such meeting mentioned in the program of the Russian Foreign Minister.”
Khatib had to fight off an overnight challenge after saying he would be willing to talk to Syrian officials without Assad stepping down first, but that concession appeared to have opened the way to Saturday’s talks.
Both the Coalition and the armed opposition inside Syria had been saying they would be willing to discuss a political transition only after Assad left.
A meeting of the Coalition’s 12-member politburo ended at 5 a.m. Friday with the leadership instructing Khatib not to respond to any proposals in Munich before returning to them.
A Western diplomat in contact with the opposition said the Munich meeting had to present Khatib with proposals for the removal of Assad that he could accept without losing credibility.
Ahead of leaving office Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Thursday urged Assad’s allies Iran and Russia to rethink their positions, saying the most dire scenarios of the conflict spilling beyond its borders could still come to pass. She told reporters there were signs that Iran was sending more people and increasingly sophisticated weaponry to support Assad’s war.
“I personally have been warning for quite some time of the dangers associated with an increasingly lethal civil war and a potential proxy war,” she said.
On the ground Friday, peaceful protests demanding Assad’s departure were held across the country, even as violent clashes continued.
In Hama, demonstrations were held under the banner of “Friday of the International Community is Assad’s Accomplice in his Crimes” on the anniversary of a massacre of up to 20,000 people during a crackdown government forces led by Assad’s father and predecessor, Hafez Assad, in the city in 1982.
Southern Damascus saw fresh clashes early Friday, as army tanks battered rebel enclaves near the Syrian capital, according to the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, adding that clashes also broke out in Yarmouk camp, home to the majority of Syria’s Palestinian refugees.
Near the capital, tanks shelled several insurgent-held areas, among them Yabrud, Irbin, Moadamiyet al-Sham and Yalda, said the Observatory.