Envoy makes "last appeal" for Syria as officials meet

Fri Feb 1, 2013 6:31pm EST
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By Khaled Yacoub Oweis and Myra MacDonald

AMMAN/MUNICH (Reuters) - Senior U.S., Russian and U.N. officials, along with the leader of the Syrian opposition, were all expected at a security conference in Munich on Saturday, providing a rare opportunity for talks to revive efforts to end the civil war in Syria.

Moscow and the United Nations, however, played down Syrian opposition assertions that its leader would hold a joint meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in Munich.

Brahimi, who said he had bilateral meetings planned with Biden and Lavrov on the sidelines of the conference in the southern German city, told the conference on Friday he was pessimistic about an early solution to the conflict.

"I am much more conscious of the difficulties, of the country being broken down day after day, than I am of a solution," he said, speaking at a panel alongside Syrian opposition leader, National Coalition President Moaz Alkhatib.

But a high-level member of the Syrian opposition coalition told Reuters that Russia may be softening towards a meeting with Alkhatib after he said he was willing to hold talks with the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

A Russian diplomatic source did not rule out a meeting taking place "spontaneously" at the weekend Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

If it occurred it would be the first time the United States and Russia, who have been at loggerheads over whether Assad can have a role in a transitional government, had sat down together with the opposition.

"LAST APPEAL"   Continued...

A Free Syrian Army fighter walks in a building destroyed during clashes in the Haresta neighbourhood of Damascus February 1, 2013. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic