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Top Syrian diplomat holds talks in Russia on conflict

The Syrian Deputy FM denies to his Russian allies the presence of a US-involved plan to the country's political crisis during a meeting in Moscow

AFP , Thursday 27 Dec 2012
A Free Syrian Army fighter crosses through a hole during gunfight with forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, near Aleppo's airport December 26, 2012 (Photo: Reuters)
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A Syrian government delegation led by Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad on Thursday held talks at the Russian foreign ministry as Moscow denied the existence of a joint plan with the United States to end the crisis in the country.

Muqdad held talks in the morning at the foreign ministry in Moscow, foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said, adding that the results would be announced later in the day.

"The meeting has taken place. We will announce the results later," he told reporters.

"This is of course a part of the efforts we are undertaking to encourage dialogue not just with the government but all opposition forces," he added.

It was not immediately clear who was present at the closed-door meeting but the ITAR-TASS news agency on Wednesday said Muqdad's visit would include talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The meeting came amid a flurry of end-of-year diplomacy in Russia over the Syrian crisis that will also see talks between UN-Arab League Syria peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and Lavrov on Saturday.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Amr is also arriving in Moscow later on Thursday for a visit that will include talks and a news conference with Lavrov on Friday.

Russia has to the fury of the West refused to cut cooperation with the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad in the conflict that according to activists has now claimed over 45,000 lives.

The diplomatic drive comes amid Western media reports of a new Russia-US initiative that would see Assad stay in power until 2014 while preventing him from further renewing his mandate.

But Lukashevich vehemently denied the existence of any such plan.

"There was not and is not such a plan and it is not being discussed," he said, adding that Russia's Syria policy was still based on an accord with world powers made back in June for an inter-Syrian dialogue.

Russia has always insisted it will not prop up Assad's regime but has also emphasised Moscow will not seek to persuade the Syrian president to step down, saying it is up to the Syrian people to decide the country's future.

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