Julian Borger and Harriet Sherwood
February 2, 2013
The Syrian opposition has said it is ready for exploratory peace talks with the regime after gaining UN backing for its position that Bashar al-Assad himself “would have no role” in a transitional government.
The developments served to increase the isolation of Russia which remains a staunch backer of the regime in Damascus, and has insisted that Assad stay in place through any future transition to democracy. As senior officials arrived in Munich for a security conference this week, it was unclear on Friday night whether the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, would join the US vice-president, Joseph Biden, and the UN special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, in meeting the opposition National Coalition leader, Moaz al-Khatib.
Despite Syrian opposition claims that Lavrov would take part in a four-way meeting, one of his deputies, Gennady Gatilov, said there were no plans for such a meeting.
Khatib arrived in Munich having survived a challenge to his leadership from Islamists inside the coalition, who objected to his offer, first made on his personal Facebook page, to talk to the regime while Assad remained in power. The objection had been that Assad had to leave office before talks could begin but Khatib defended himself against criticism at an emergency coalition meeting in Cairo on Thursday, saying that the talks would remain conditional on the release of thousands of political prisoners.