U.N. sees glimmer of hope in Syria opposition offer of talks

UNITED NATIONS Sat Feb 9, 2013 4:05am IST

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UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations sees a glimmer of hope for Syria in the opposition leader's offer to meet government representatives to discuss a political transition in an effort to end nearly two years of fighting, a senior U.N. official said on Friday.

U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman said last week's offer by Moaz Alkhatib, the head of the Syrian National Coalition, was "the most promising thing we've heard on Syria recently.

The United Nations said more than 60,000 people have been killed during a 22-month-old revolt against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which began with peaceful protests but turned violent after Assad's forces tried to crush the demonstrations.

"I would argue that given the horrors the Syrian people have endured ... that any opportunity we have to try to pursue a political path rather than a military path is worth trying," Feltman told reporters of Alkhatib's offer.

"Perhaps there is now a slight opening, perhaps that locked door to negotiations is starting to be unlocked," he said. "Moaz Alkhatib does represent a significant and important part of the opposition ... . This is an opportunity worth pursuing."

Alkhatib said he would be willing to meet Syrian officials if they freed political prisoners arrested during the uprising.

Feltman said international Syria mediator Lakhdar Brahimi was exploring how to use Alkhatib's offer to further the stalled bid to broker peace in Syria.

The 15-member U.N. Security Council has been deadlocked since 2011 over Russia and China's refusal to consider sanctions against Assad's government. They have vetoed three resolutions condemning Assad's attempts to crush the revolt.

Brahimi told the council last week that the outline of a political transition in Syria, agreed to at talks among major world and regional powers in Geneva in June last year, could form the basis for a council plan of action.

But diplomats said Russia now believes this initiative by Brahimi had been overtaken by the opposition offer of talks, and that Moscow was focused on helping the two sides cut through any conditions placed on getting them to the negotiating table.

Diplomats said Russia described Alkhatib's offer as an important development generating "positive momentum" and that the Syrian opposition leader, who met with the foreign ministers of Russia and Iran last week in Germany, could visit Moscow.

Russia and Iran have been the staunchest allies of Assad throughout the conflict, and any understanding they might reach with his foes could help get talks started.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Xavier Briand)

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