Russia pressuring Assad for end to violence – Syrian opposition group

Russia pressuring Assad for end to violence – Syrian opposition group

Russia's leadership is pushing Damascus to stop military operations against the country's insurgency in order to enable a political solution to the standoff in Syria, a representative of a moderate Syrian opposition group said Thursday, RIA Novosti reported.

"To stop all the attacks of the regime - it will be a great victory for those who want peace. I think they [the Russian Foreign Ministry] sent something to the Syrian regime, a very strong message about it," said Haytham Manna, a member of the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change in Syria (NCC), speaking on the sidelines of a news conference.

Representatives of the opposition group, also known as the National Coordination Body, held talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his deputy Mikhail Bogdanov in Moscow on Thursday.

The NCC insists that the bloody standoff in Syria can only be ended through political dialogue, Manna said.

This puts it at odds with the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, an umbrella group created earlier this month, which claims to represent more than 80 percent of groups opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and rejects dialogue with Assad and his government.

Russia has promoted a political solution to the crisis throughout the entire 20-month-long standoff in Syria, vetoing three resolutions in the UN Security Council that called for tougher measures against Assad.

Lavrov reiterated after his talks with the NCC on Thursday that Russia calls for political negotiations between Assad and the Syrian opposition, but gave no further details. Calls to the Foreign Ministry's press office made after working hours went unanswered.

However, Russia's envoy to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, said on late Thursday that "we are trying to pressure the government in Syria, to convince them there is no military solution to the crisis and to sit them down at the negotiating table with the opposition," Itar-Tass reported.

The NCC plans to hold a conference in Rome on Dec. 17-18 in a bid to further unite Syrian opposition groups.

Manna said Russia was the first of the UN Security Council's five permanent members to agree to attend the conference. But Bogdanov said Thursday evening that Moscow welcomes such meetings, but had not yet received an official invitation. He added that Moscow would decide on a lineup of its prospective delegation once there was a clearer picture of who else would be attending the Rome meeting.

The UN peace envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, said Thursday that he has some new proposals for solving the Syrian conflict, but they would require support from all members of the UN Security Council.

None of the permanent council members - China, France, Great Britain, Russia and the United States - had commented on these new plans as of late Thursday, Moscow time.

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