Russia doubts mid-November date for Syria peace talks

Reuters

* Says radicals strengthening positions

* Criticises U.N. monitors in Syria

By Steve Gutterman

MOSCOW, Oct 1 (Reuters) - Russia expressed doubt on Tuesdaythat Western nations can persuade Syrian oppositionrepresentatives to take part in an international peaceconference in time for it to take place in mid-November.

The doubts of Damascus's most important ally followedremarks in which the international envoy for Syria, LakhdarBrahimi, said the target date of mid-November was "not 100percent certain" and cited disunity among rebel forces.

"Until recently we hoped our Western partners, who undertookto bring the opposition to the conference, could do it quitequickly, but they were unable to do it quickly, and I don't knowwhether they will be able to do so by mid-November," RussianForeign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

A pledge by the Syrian government to abandon chemical armshas increased prospects for the peace conference, proposed byRussia and the United States in May, to go ahead.

U.N. Security Council powers hope it can be held inmid-November. Lavrov said it must be organised soon since"radicals and jihadists are strengthening their positions" inSyria.

"The task is to not lose any more time, and to bring to thenegotiating table with the government those opposition groups that ... think not about creating a caliphate in Syria or justseizing power and using it at their will, but about the fate oftheir country," Lavrov said after meeting Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu,secretary general of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

Lavrov also called into question the thoroughness of a U.N.chemical weapons mission after suggesting that it had notexamined a site outside of Aleppo where Russia and the Syriangovernment say rebel forces likely used chemical weapons.

"The commission recently returned (to Syria) and alreadyannounced that it finished its work and is returning to NewYork," said Lavrov.

"As far as I understand, they examined several more placeswhere there are claims chemical weapons were used near Damascus.And as before, the commission did not travel to the outskirts ofAleppo, where a serious incident of the use of chemical weaponsoccurred on March 19."

Syrian rebels blame Assad's government for that attack.

Russian experts visited the location earlier this year andtook samples of material from the site that were later analysedat a Russian laboratory certified by the Organisation for theProhibition of Chemical Weapons, Russia's U.N. envoy saidpreviously.

The site was one of the places covered in the U.N.committee's mandate. "And so we want to understand whether themission's report will be complete or incomplete," Lavrov said,"considering that this mission was not able to visit all thelocations named in its initial mandate."

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