Assad says Moscow talks must focus on fighting ‘terror’

Assad’s comments echoed the regime’s stance last year, during two rounds of failed talks in Geneva

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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said hoped-for talks in Moscow with opponents must focus on the fight against “terrorism”, while adding that he is unsure the meeting will reap any results.

“We are going to Russia not to start a dialogue, but to meet with these (opposition) figures and to discuss with them the framework of a dialogue,” said Assad in an interview with Czech newspaper Literani Noviny published Thursday.

Such talks, he said, should focus on “Syrian unity, the fight against terrorist organizations, support for the army and the war on terror”.

Since the start of a 2011 revolt against him, Assad has equated peaceful protesters with rebels and jihadists, branding them all as “terrorists”.

Assad’s comments echoed the regime’s stance last year, during two rounds of failed talks in Geneva.

Instead, the opposition has repeatedly called for talks to focus the creation of a transitional government.

In his latest interview, Assad said he backed the Russian initiative, but that “it is too early to judge whether it will succeed or fail”.

“If (the opposition) have ideas that serve the interests of the Syrian people, we will move forward. Otherwise, we will not deal with them seriously”.

Key Assad backer Moscow recently launched an initiative aimed at bringing the regime and opposition back to the negotiating table in January.

However it is uncertain how the talks can take place, because the exiled opposition has already announced it will not attend.

Damascus-tolerated movements have mostly either rejected Moscow’s invitation or have yet to decide whether they will attend.

Assad branded the exiled opposition as “puppets in the hands of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, France and the United States”.

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