Syrian leaders submit truce, prisoner swap plans to Russian ally

Jan. 17, 2014 at 3:06 PM
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MOSCOW, Jan. 17 (UPI) -- Syrian officials said they presented plans to their Russian allies that call for a truce in Aleppo and a prisoner swap in advance of next week's peace talks.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem's announcement in Moscow had observers commenting that it could be a significant development in the run-up to the "Geneva II" peace discussions that begin Wednesday in Montreux, Switzerland, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The newspaper said proposals also appear to keep the regime of President Bashar Assad, whom the opposition has been fighting to topple, at the center of the cease-fire plan. The United States, western countries and the main opposition coalition have said Assad must leave power.

Earlier in the week al-Muallem told the United Nations, in a letter, the purpose of the upcoming peace talks is to fight terrorism, not discuss a political transition.

Speaking in Washington Friday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke of the "revisionism of the Syrian regime in its effort to try to divert the purpose [of the peace talks], which will not be successful."

Kerry added each of the 30 nations participating in the talks "will be and must be committed to the Geneva 1 communique," which calls for a transitional government for Syria.

Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov this week called on both sides to work toward a limited cease-fire, a prisoner exchange and improved access for humanitarian aid in advance of next week's meeting.

The Switzerland meeting would be the first time Syrian government officials have met with representatives of the exile-based opposition coalition supported by the United States and its allies.

During the announcement in Moscow Friday, the Syrian government also said it was willing to bolster the delivery of humanitarian assistance, but blamed rebels for firing on an aid convoy bound for the besieged southern Damascus district of Yarmouk.

The main U.S.-backed opposition umbrella group, the Syrian National Coalition, was meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, Friday to decide whether it would attend the peace talks.

The United States and other Western countries have been pressuring the coalition's leadership to attend the conference, seeing it as the best way to end a nearly 3-year-old civil war that has killed more than 120,000 people, the New York Times reported.

The Los Angeles Times said details about a possible cease-fire in Aleppo weren't available. Once Syria's commercial hub, Aleppo has been split between government and opposition forces for 18 months.

There was no immediate response from the Syrian opposition to the latest government proposals.

Haitham al-Maleh, a member of the opposition coalition, told al-Jazeera television Friday the coalition would negotiate only "to remove the regime."

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