Syria latest: Russia ‘seeks talks to end the violence’ as deadline looms

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A RUSSIAN diplomat last night said Moscow was working with the Syrian authorities to seek an end to violence and the start of talks with their opponents, but stopped short of publicly pressing the government to meet the military withdrawal deadline.

Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Moualem arrived in Moscow yesterday and was to meet his Russian counterpart today, the deadline for Syrian government forces to start withdrawing from cities and towns under Kofi Annan’s peace plan.

Moscow was “working actively with Damascus in order to begin a political settlement process in [Syria]”, Russian deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov said. He reiterated Russia’s opposition to interference in Syria, where, it says, any regime change must result from an internal political process and not pressure from foreign countries calling for president Bashar al-Assad’s resignation.

“Attempts to force a solution on Syria will lead only to an escalation of tension. Everything must follow from respect for Syria’s sovereignty, and violence must be stopped,” Mr Gatilov said.

Russia has been under pressure from western and Arab nations to use its ties with Syria to help to ensure Assad abides by the deal brokered by Mr Annan, the joint UN-Arab League envoy, for an eventual truce.

Mr Gatilov said: “There are concrete points in [Mr Annan’s plan], and we fully support this plan.”.