BEIRUT: Russia’s Ambassador to Lebanon said Monday differing viewpoints on how to launch talks between the government of President Bashar Assad and the Syrian opposition need to be reconciled.
“I note that the Syrians have started implementing the regime’s plan for a political settlement which was announced on Jan. 6,” Alexander Zasypkin said, adding: “I also point to the opposition’s declaration over their intent to hold dialogue with Syrian authorities.”
“We call for steps to be taken to transform the situation from one of confrontation to a political track and for views of the negotiating process to be reconciled,” he said following a meeting with Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour, according to the National News Agency.
Last week, Syria's main opposition leader said he would be willing to hold talks with Syria’s deputy foreign minister to find a settlement to the nearly two-year-old conflict. He gave Damascus until Sunday to respond.
Moaz al-Khatib, the Syrian National Coalition leader, said Monday that Damascus had not responded to his offer following the expiration of the deadline.
"No meetings have been arranged, and no formal contact with any party has happened so far,” he said after meeting the head of the Arab League in Cairo.
However, when pressed to say whether his offer was still open despite the timeline he had set, Khatib said: "We are still waiting for the government response and then we are going to study that."
Zasypkin said Russia was continuing “intense diplomatic contacts with all the relevant sides in order to commence national dialogue in Syria and that there be assurances these talks are between the Syrians themselves.”
“Foreign sides, on the other hand, need to have clear stances that are in line with U.N. decisions and the Geneva Accord and they have to encourage the sides in Syria to sit on the negotiating table,” he added.
Russia has backed Assad since popular revolts erupted in the Arab country in March 2011.
Zasypkin said he had discussed with Mansour discussed preparations for the first round of the Arab- Russia Forum, which will involve participation by foreign ministers, to take place in Moscow on Feb. 20, during talks in Beirut.
“It is expected that talks during the forum will include regional developments as well as raising the level of relations between Russia and the Arab world at all levels,” he said.
Commenting on Cardinal Beshara’s Rai’s historic visit to Syria over the weekend, Zasypkin said: “The Russian side welcomes this visit. The Russian Foreign Ministry stance of safeguarding the rights of the Christians is a constant.”
“We insist that any settlement in Syria needs to include a clause that secures the rights of all sects,” he said.