MOSCOW, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- Russian diplomats Saturday called for peace negotiations with leaders of Syrian opposition forces in a neutral country.
"We had contacts through our embassy in Egypt with representatives of the [Syrian] National Coalition, including Mr. Khatib [Syrian opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib]," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said during a meeting with U.N.-Arab League Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. "We expressed readiness to meet with him in Moscow but at that moment he preferred some neutral capital, some other country. We are also ready for that."
On Friday, Khatib rejected a previous proposal for peace talks extended by Russia, RIA Novosti reported. Those negotiations would have taken place in Moscow.
"We have clearly said we will not go to Moscow. We could meet in an Arab country if there was a clear agenda," Khatib said. "Now we also want an apology from Lavrov because all this time he said that the people will decide their destiny, without foreign intervention. Russia is intervening and meanwhile all these massacres of the Syrian people have happened, treated as if they were a picnic."
Responding to Khatib's comments, Lavrov said: "I know that Mr. Khatib is probably not very experienced in politics. If he aspires to the role of a serious politician, he will nonetheless understand that it is in his own interests to hear our analysis directly from us."
Lavrov also acknowledged that the opposition's condition for peace talks -- that Syrian President Bashar Assad step down from power -- will not likely be met, The New York Times reported.
"[Assad] has repeatedly said, both publicly and privately, including during his meeting with Lakhdar Brahimi not long ago, that he has no plans to go anywhere, that he will stay in his post until the end, that he will, as he says, protect the Syrian people, Syrian sovereignty and so forth," Lavrov said. "There is no possibility of changing this position."
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