MIDDLE EAST

Syria willing to participate in peace talks organized by Russia

Syria says it's willing to participate in peace talks held by Russia

The Syrian government said Saturday that it would be willing to participate in a Russia-sponsored conference to end its almost four-year-long civil war, state media said.

The Syrian state news agency, SANA, said there had been “ongoing discussions” to plan a meeting that would be a prelude to a peace conference in Moscow. It also vowed to continue to combat terrorism “over every part of Syrian soil.”

The Syrian government regards the rebellion against its rule as terrorism, and routinely uses that term when discussing the anti-government forces. Russia has been a staunch ally of the government of President Bashar Assad, and is deeply distrusted by his foes, limiting the odds of success of any such conference.

“The Syrian Arab Republic confirms that it was and still is ready to discuss with whoever believes in the unity of Syria ... in what serves the will of the Syrian people and fulfills their aspirations in achieving security and stability and to end the bloodshed,” SANA said.

The statement also supported local truces, cease-fires that have been used in parts of Syria to end clashes between pro-government forces and rebel fighters while granting some measure of amnesty to opposition members. Critics, however, dismiss the truces as little more than capitulations forced upon residents facing dire humanitarian circumstances as a result of crippling sieges by the Syrian army.

The Russian state news agency, Tass, quoted Mikhail Bogdanov, the Russian presidential special envoy for the Middle East and Africa, as saying that Moscow would initially host opposition groups as a first step.

“Next, representatives of the Syrian government could come for the second stage and later, an agreement on more concrete formats, for instance a conference, may be achieved,” Bogdanov said.

However, opposition members roundly rejected any conference organized by Russia.

“It's outrageous that the very nation funding Assad’s annihilation of the Syrian people suddenly claims to be a peacemaker,” said Oubai Shahbandar, senior advisor to the Western-backed opposition group the National Coalition, contacted by phone Saturday. “Moscow has no credibility in that department.”

Bulos is a special correspondent

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