Syrian opposition: ‘Russia isn’t clinging to Assad’
Syrian National Coalition president Khaled Khoja said that Russia wants to focus on preserving Syria's territorial integrity
Russia isn't committed to keeping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power, the leader of the main Syrian opposition group said Friday after talks in Moscow.
Speaking a day after talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Syrian National Coalition president Khaled Khoja said that "the Russian leadership isn't clinging to Bashar Assad" and is focusing on the need to preserve Syria's territorial integrity.
It wasn't immediately clear whether Khoja's statement signaled a shift in Russia's stance, or merely reflected Moscow's attempt to rally Syrian opposition support for its new push to help mediate the conflict.
Earlier on Thursday, Syria’s main opposition group insisted Assad must go and rejected calls to join forces against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants as it met with Lavrov.
Khoja held talks with Lavrov as part of a fresh push by Russia to find a way out of the four-year civil war that has cost some 240,000 lives.
Moscow - one of Assad’s few remaining backers - is pushing a plan for a broader grouping than the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS group, to include Syria’s government and its allies.
But Khoja - in Moscow for his first talks since February 2014 - ruled out cooperating with Assad and reiterated demands that the strongman must leave before any transitional government can be set up.
At the start of the meeting, Lavrov insisted that Russia was working with regional and international players to find a political solution to the crisis and stop Syria from becoming a “hotbed of terrorism.”
“The main thing now is that these interests translate into practical coordinated steps,” Lavrov said.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir - a key backer of the Syrian opposition - rejected calls to work with Assad against ISIS after a meeting with Lavrov in Moscow on Tuesday.
As part of the push, Lavrov is expected to meet with the head of a newer grouping of opposition figures known as the Cairo Conference Committee on Friday.
(With AP, AFP)
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