The regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is ready to talk with all parties, including armed groups, who want dialogue to end the conflict, Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said on Monday at the start of talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
“We are ready for dialogue with all who want dialogue, including those who are carrying arms,” Muallem said at the Moscow talks with Lavrov, who warned there was “no acceptable alternative” to a political solution and that further bloodshed risked Syria’s collapse.
The opposition Syrian National Coalition has said it is willing to negotiate a peace deal to end the country’s civil war but that President Bashar al-Assad must step down and cannot be a party to any settlement.
Russia has renewed calls for rebels and regime to engage in direct negotiations to end the two-year conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people, warning that pressing for a military victory risked destroying Syria.
“We are ready for dialogue with all who want dialogue, including those who are carrying arms,” Muallem said at the talks with Lavrov, in an apparent reference to the rebels battling the Assad regime.
“We still believe in a peaceful solution to the Syrian problem,” said Muallem, pointing to the creation of a government coalition that would negotiate with both the “external and internal opposition.”
Lavrov said alongside Muallem that there was no alternative to a political solution to the two-year conflict agreed through talks.
“There is no acceptable alternative to a political solution achieved through agreeing positions of the government and the opposition,” said Lavrov.
“The Syrian people should decide their fate without external intervention,” he said.
Lavrov added that the situation in Syria was “at the crossroads” but expressed optimism that a negotiated solution could be found.
“There are those who have embarked on a course of further bloodshed that risks the collapse of the state and society,” he said.
“But there are also sensible forces who are increasingly aware of the necessity to begin the talks as soon as possible to reach a political settlement.
“The number of supporters of such a realistic line is growing,” said Lavrov.
He warned that there was no point for the sides trying to fight towards a “victorious end” and warned Assad’s regime not to give into what Lavrov termed “provocations”.
“The need… for the Syrian leadership not to allow provocations to prevail has increased manyfold,” he said.
Lavrov had said last week there were positive signs from both sides of a new willingness to talk but called on the regime of Assad to turn oft-stated words about its readiness for dialogue into deeds.
The diplomatic activity came as there appeared to be no let-up in the fighting which according to the United Nations has claimed 70,000 lives since the conflict began in March 2011.
On Sunday alone, according to a toll compiled by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 105 people were killed in violence across the country.
The Britain-based monitoring group also updated its death toll from Friday’s missile attack on the northern city of Aleppo, saying it killed at least 58 people, including 36 children.
On Al Arabiya English’s guide to Syrian regime, “The Lion’s Den” – an animated deck of cards which lists who has defected, died or remains in the regime during the conflict, Muallem takes the place of the Joker card. See the full regime deck here.