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Little sign of progress at Moscow Syria talks

AFP , Thursday 9 Apr 2015
Lavrov
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov attends a joint press conference after talks with Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Moscow on Tuesday, April 7, 2015 (Photo: AP)
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Talks between the Syrian government and members of the tolerated opposition were set to end Thursday in Moscow with little sign of progress towards ending the spiralling conflict in the country.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was due to open a final meeting between the two sides but opposition activists said there was little chance of a breakthrough after holding two days of talks with the delegation of Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Syria's ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar al-Jaafari, headed the government delegation for four days of meetings with Russian mediators and opposition figures from the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change (NCCDC).

But the main Western-backed exiled Syrian opposition National Coalition stayed away, and another leading domestic opposition activist was stuck in Damascus due to a travel ban.

"We will meet for two hours but I do not think this will be enough to make any advances," opposition figure Samir Aita said.

"Yesterday Jaafari presented general points that include some that are not really acceptable to the opposition," Aita said, citing a condemnation of Jordanian but not Iranian involvement in Syria.

Moscow's latest attempt to bring government and opposition together comes amid continuing strikes by the US-led coalition against the Islamic State, with Canada on Wednesday sending two F-18s to strike IS positions near the Syrian city of Raqqa.

The talks in Moscow followed a similar round of meetings between the government and opposition in late January that failed to achieve any concrete results.

Another member of the opposition delegation, Randa Kassis, blamed divisions within the squabbling opposition themselves for hampering any progress.

"There is no work as a group. There are clans that try to impose their ideas on the others," she said. "The regime then profits from our weakness."

Analysts said the meeting was designed to help Russia -- a firm ally of the Assad regime -- bolster its profile as a peace broker in the region.

The opposition National Coalition accused Russia of seeking to use the talks to bolster Assad, and declined to attend.

Most of Syria's opposition in exile has made it clear that Assad must step down in any deal to end the conflict that began with demonstrations against his rule in March 2011.

An Arab diplomat following the developments had told AFP that a proposal now being floated would see Assad stay in power for two or three more years to prepare a transition, given Russian and US fears about the consequences if his regime collapsed suddenly.

The window for any such agreement is fairly small, with Washington reportedly insisting that any deal be signed before campaigning for the 2016 presidential election begins in earnest in the autumn.

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