Russian PM sees Syria peace talks by end of year

Reuters

By Stephen Adler and Timothy Heritage

MOSCOW, Nov 1 (Reuters) - Russia hopes an internationalpeace conference on Syria will be held before the end of thisyear, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said, despite reporteddifferences with the United States over oppositionrepresentation.

He appealed to both sides in Syria's civil war to compromiseand criticised the opposition for demanding assurances of President Bashar al-Assad's departure as a condition for thetalks.

"I hope it will be possible to hold the conference by theend of this year but we understand that the influence of allsides taking part is limited," Medvedev told Reuters in aninterview late on Thursday.

"It depends to a great extent on the positions of the Syriansides. We're pushing them towards this, and I hope everyone whotalks to different circles in Syria will do the same," he said.

"It's a difficult process and everyone must compromise,including opposition leaders and the Syrian government, ofcourse."

Russia has been Assad's most powerful backer during thetwo-and-a-half-year-old conflict, delivering weapons, blockingthree U.N. Security Council resolutions meant to pressure himand saying his exit cannot be a precondition for peace talks.

U.S., Russian and U.N. envoys are to meet in Geneva onTuesday as part of preparations for the long-delayed conference,which Russia and the United States first proposed in May.

The latest target date for the talks, Nov. 23, looks likelyto be pushed back and sources close to the negotiations say amain point of contention is the role of the Western-backedopposition coalition.

ASSAD NEEDS GUARANTEES

Western and Gulf Arab countries opposed to Assad say theGeneva talks should be between a "single delegation of theSyrian regime and a single delegation of the opposition" led bythe coalition.

Russia sees the coalition as just one part of the oppositionand has suggested that several delegations, includingDamascus-based figures tolerated by the government, couldrepresent Assad's enemies.

"I think that the ideas that are sometimes put forward -let's exclude President Assad and then agree on everything - areunrealistic as long as Assad is in power," Medvedev said.

"He's not mad. He must receive some kind of guarantees or,in any case, some kind of proposals on the development ofpolitical dialogue in Syria itself, on possible elections, onhis personal fate."

Assad suggested last month that he could seek re-election ina vote scheduled for next year.

Medvedev said Assad might be worried by the fates sufferedby Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak - who was overthrown and puton trial - and Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, who met a grisly deathafter being ousted from power.

"You have to agree that when he recalls the fate ofPresident Mubarak or Colonel Muammar Gaddafi ... his moodprobably doesn't get any better," Medvedev said. "So you can'tjust say 'get out and then we'll agree everything'."

Gaddafi's ouster came after Medvedev, then president,ordered Russia not to block a U.N. Security Council vote thatpaved the way for NATO intervention. He and President VladimirPutin have vowed not to let the same thing happen in Syria.

Medvedev expressed indignation that Russia had been forcedto evacuate its embassy in Tripoli after it was attacked by anangry crowd in October.

"What kind of a state is it that cannot guarantee diplomatseven basic security?" he said. "I said when I was stillpresident that we could not allow events to develop in such away in Syria."

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