Russia says removing Assad from power is impossible

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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s removal from power was not a part of past international agreements on the crisis and impossible to implement.

“This is a precondition that is not contained in the Geneva communiqué (agreed by world powers in June) and which is impossible to implement because it does not depend on anyone,” news agencies quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying.

Lavrov conceded that a rare speech Assad delivered on Jan. 6 laying out his own vision for a peace settlement probably did not go far enough and would not appease the armed opposition.

But he also urged Assad’s enemies to come out with a counterproposal that could get serious peace talks started between the two sides for the first time.

“President Assad came out with initiatives aimed at inviting all opposition members to dialogue. Yes, these initiatives probably do not go far enough. Probably they will not seem serious to some, but they are proposals,” the Interfax news agency quoted Lavrov as saying.

“If I were in the opposition’s shoes, I would come up with my ideas in response on how to establish a dialogue.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced disappointment over Assad’s speech a week ago that was also dismissed by the United States. Syrian rebels described it as a renewed declaration of war.

Russia which has shielded Damascus from more international pressure to end the bloodshed - setting Moscow at odds with the West and most Arab states - said Assad’s ideas should be taken into account.

Lavrov also reiterated Moscow’s long-standing position that the Syrian opposition’s demand for Assad to quit could not be a precondition for peace talks to end the 21-month conflict that killed at least 60,000 people.