THE head of the main Syrian opposition alliance has held his first direct talks with senior Russian politicians.
The meeting between Mouaz al-Khatib, of the National Coalition, and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov took place on the sidelines of an international security conference in Munich yesterday.
Moscow is a long-time ally of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
Lavrov is to attend talks with US vice-president Joe Biden and UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. The crisis in Syria urgently requires agreement between Russia and the United States if any UN-backed diplomatic initiative is to make headway.
However the two are still as far apart as ever.
Before their meeting, Lavrov told the conference Biden’s insistence that the Syrian leader step down was counterproductive.
He said: “The persistence of those who say that priority number one is the removal of president Assad – I think it’s the single biggest reason for the continued tragedy in Syria.”
More than 60,000 people have been killed since the uprising against president Assad began 22 months ago, according to the UN.
Khatib will also meet Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi at the security conference.
“The talks about Syria are intensifying and the Iranians have been drawn in. Let’s see how it all ends,” a source said.
On the ground in Syria yesterday, rebels captured Sheik Said, a neighbourhood near Aleppo’s international airport, putting opposition fighters in control of a key road that the regime has used to ferry supplies and reinforcements to soldiers fighting in the embattled northern city. More than 60 people died in clashes elsewhere in Syria.
Troops loyal to Assad and rebels have been locked in a deadly stalemate in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and main commercial hub, since an opposition assault last summer. Seven months later, the rebels hold large parts of the city, including several army bases, but they have been unable to overcome the regime’s far superior firepower.