Syrian 'Terrorists' Must Be Identified Before Talks, Russia Says

  • Assad's government indicates readiness to engage opposition
  • UN envoy urges that talks continue without preconditions

World powers must identify which of the dozens of rebel groups fighting in Syria are “terrorists” before resuming talks on establishing a limited cease-fire and moving toward a solution to the conflict, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s government has indicated readiness to speak with the opposition forces trying to depose him, Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations’ envoy on Syria, told reporters in Moscow Wednesday. The civil war has killed more than 250,000 people, displaced millions, allowed Islamic State and other jihadist groups to gain influence, and raised tensions between Russia and Iran on one said and the U.S. and its allies on the other.

A meeting of top diplomats from world powers including Russia, the U.S., Iran, China, and European and Middle Eastern nations in Vienna last week produced no breakthrough, with the main sides disagreeing over whether Assad can stay in power. It was still a major step, however, in that it brought most of the main backers of forces fighting in Syria to the same table. Lavrov said two lists must be drawn up before discussions can continue.

“The first is a list of terrorist organizations that wouldn’t fall under a cease-fire that we all hope at some stage to announce,” Lavrov told reporters after meeting de Mistura in Moscow. “The second list will comprise an opposition delegation that will negotiate with the government under the auspices of the United Nations.”

Lavrov spoke to U.S. Secretary John Kerry by phone on Wednesday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. They discussed assisting in the creation of a united opposition delegation and other measures. Kerry told reporters on Oct. 30 that negotiations would continue within two weeks, but he warned that there will be no quick solution.

De Mistura called on talks to continue immediately without preconditions, and said all of the Syrian opposition must be represented.

“They need to do what we saw in Vienna,” he said. “They need to start talking, and the UN is ready for it.”

The U.S. and its allies insist Assad must leave office as part of any accord, though they have in recent weeks signaled they could countenance him staying on in a transitional administration. Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his country’s first military campaign outside of the former Soviet Union in more than three decades in September to help Assad. Putin hosted the Syrian leader at the Kremlin last month, and is pushing for a power-sharing plan that would let him stay in office and contest elections, while giving the opposition a role in the Middle Eastern state’s government.

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