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Russia urges Assad, opponents to meet

  |   Dec. 28, 2012 at 11:48 AM
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MOSCOW, Dec. 28 (UPI) -- Russian leaders are urging the Syrian government to honor its pledge to talk with the opposition as Moscow steps up diplomatic efforts to end the conflict.

Russia Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday he urged senior Syrian officials during recent meetings to show they are willing to discuss the "widest possible range of issues" with opposition leaders to resolve the conflict that began in March 2011, Voice of America reported.

Russia has defended Syrian President Bashar Assad but recently signaled impatience with the Syrian government's role in the conflict in which an estimated 45,000 people have been killed.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told the RIA Novosti that Russian leaders extended to Syrian National Council, the main opposition group recognized by many governments as the representative of Syrians, an invitation to join in peace talks.

Bogdanov, Russia's diplomatic representative to the region, said he expects to meet soon with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi about proposals to end Syria's civil war.

Brahimi, expected in Russia Saturday, has proposed forming a transitional government to rule until elections next year. He said Thursday any plan must embrace "real change" but didn't specify whether such change would include the opposition's demand that Assad be removed -- something Russia has dismissed.

Lavrov was to meet with Egyptian Foreign Minister, Mohamed Kamel Amr, this week in Moscow to discuss ways to settle the Syrian crisis and other Middle East issues, the Voice of Russia said.

Lavrov warned that the civil war in Syria would devolve into "bloody chaos," unless the government in Damascus and the opposition negotiate a cease-fire.

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