January 13, 2013 / 3:28 AM / 5 years ago

Russia tells Syria rebels: seek dialogue with Damascus

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Syrian opposition should make counter-proposals to those President Bashar al-Assad made in a recent speech, to start a dialogue that could end the fighting, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Sunday.

“President Assad came out with initiatives aimed at inviting all opposition members to dialogue. Yes, these initiatives probably do not go far enough. Probably they will not seem serious to some, but they are proposals,” the Interfax news agency quoted Lavrov as saying.

“If I were in the opposition’s shoes, I would come up with my ideas in response on how to establish a dialogue.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced disappointment over Assad’s speech a week ago that was also dismissed by the United States. Syrian rebels described it as a renewed declaration of war.

Russia which has shielded Damascus from more international pressure to end the bloodshed - setting Moscow at odds with the West and most Arab states - said Assad’s ideas should be taken into account.

Lavrov also reiterated Moscow’s long-standing position that the Syrian opposition’s demand for Assad to quit could not be a precondition for peace talks to end the 21-month conflict that killed at least 60,000 people.

Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Robin Pomeroy

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