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Updated Monday, February 25, 2013 at 06:03 AM

Syria says ready for talks with armed opposition

The Associated Press

Syria's foreign minister told Russian diplomats on Monday that his government is ready to hold talks with the armed opposition.

"We're ready for a dialogue with anyone who's willing for it," Walid al-Moallem said in Moscow ahead of talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. "Even with those who carry arms. We are confident that reforms will come about not with the help of bloodshed but through dialogue."

It was unclear whether he was suggesting that his government would negotiate with the rebels even before they lay down their arms.

Lavrov, whose country is one of Syrian President Bashar Assad's closest allies, called on Damascus to hold negotiations with the opposition, saying that "the situation in Syria is at a crossroads now."

He warned that further fighting could lead to the breakup of the Syrian state.

Lavrov said that "those who would like to see this war last till the bitter end" are sabotaging the Syrian government's efforts to establish contact with the Syrian opposition, which "is increasing the need for Syrian authorities to keep supporting their intentions to start a dialogue."

Lavrov also insisted that Russia's stance in the Syrian conflict "is not determined by the support of certain people" but by Russia's "care for the future of the Syrian people."

Russia and the Arab League last week said they will attempt to establish direct contact between the two sides in the conflict, which the U.N. says has killed at least 70,000 people.


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