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Russia Optimistic on Syrian Peace Talks Before Moscow Visit

Russia has “cautious optimism” about the possibility of Syrian peace talks, Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said, a week before a visit to Moscow by the Middle Eastern country’s foreign minister.

“We hope that the opposition and the government will find a way to sit down at the negotiating table,” Gatilov told reporters in the Russian capital today. “A consolidated position of outside powers” is among the conditions needed for that to happen, he said.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Muallem will meet his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, on Feb. 25, in the first such high-level meeting since opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib reached out to President Bashar al-Assad’s allies Russia and Iran by holding talks with foreign ministers of both countries in Munich this month.

Al-Khatib, head of the main bloc of Syrian opposition groups, will also travel to Moscow to discuss a solution to the conflict that has wracked Syria for almost two years, though a precise date hasn’t been fixed yet, according to Gatilov.

Assad has been fighting an insurgency that has left almost 70,000 people dead, according to the United Nations. The mainly Sunni Syrian opposition, which had refused to negotiate with Assad’s Alawite-led regime, is now considering dialog with the authorities.

Assad’s government indicated last week that it’s ready to meet with al-Khatib, who has called for talks to end the violence.

Radicalized, Militarized

A UN panel found the conflict is becoming increasingly sectarian, with both sides “significantly more radicalized and militarized.” In its latest report, based on interviews with 445 people and released this week, the UN’s Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria said the human rights situation has deteriorated since July amid an escalation in fighting.

Government forces and allied militiamen have committed crimes against humanity, torture, rape, kidnappings, war crimes and gross violations of human rights, the commission said. While rebels have also committed war crimes including murder, torture and hostage-taking, it said the government’s violations have been worse.

Starting war-crime prosecutions in Syria would be neither timely nor productive, Gatilov said. Proposals to ease the European Union’s arms embargo against Syria to strengthen rebel forces won’t contribute to a peaceful outcome, he said.

“The priority now is to end the violence, start a political process and stabilize the situation in Syria,” Gatilov said.

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