Syrian Foreign Minister says government is willing to meet opposition

Monday 25 February 2013 16.15
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem told Russia's foreign minister that Syrian govt is ready for dialogue
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem told Russia's foreign minister that Syrian govt is ready for dialogue

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem has said the government is ready to talk to the country's armed opposition.

During a visit to Moscow for talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Mr Moualem said: "We are ready for dialogue with everyone who wants it. "

He continued: "Even with those who have weapons in their hands. Because we believe that reforms will not come through bloodshed but only through dialogue." 

The opposition Syrian National Coalition has said it is willing to negotiate a peace deal to end the country's civil war.

However, it insists that President Bashar al-Assad must step down and cannot be a party to any settlement.

Moaz Alkhatib, head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, said in Cairo he had not had held any contacts about talks with Damascus, but had postponed trips to Russia and the United States "until we see how things develop".

Meanwhile, a Syrian rebel leader said there could be no negotiations to end the civil war until President Bashar al-Assad stepped down and leaders of the army and security forces were put on trial.

Brigadier Selim Idris, head of a military command, told Al Arabiya Television: "We will not go (into talks) unless these demands are realised." 

Damascus has rejected any preconditions for talks aimed at ending the violence, which started as a peaceful pro-democracy uprising in March 2011 inspired by Arab revolts elsewhere.