Syrian opposition chief under fire for talks with Assad allies

Sun Feb 3, 2013 3:26pm EST
 

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis and Stephen Brown

MUNICH (Reuters) - Syria's opposition leader flew back to his Cairo headquarters from Germany on Sunday to explain to skeptical allies his decision to talk with President Bashar al-Assad's main backers Russia and Iran.

The Russian and Iranian foreign ministers, and U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, portrayed Syrian National Coalition leader Moaz Alkhatib's new willingness to talk with the Assad regime as a major step towards resolving the two-year-old war.

"If we want to stop the bloodshed we cannot continue putting the blame on one side or the other," Iran's Ali Akbar Salehi said on Sunday, welcoming Alkhatib's overtures and adding that he was ready to keep talking to the opposition. Iran is Assad's main military backer together with Russia.

"This is a very important step. Especially because the coalition was created on the basis of categorical rejection of any talks with the regime," Lavrov was quoted as saying on Sunday by Russia's Itar Tass news agency.

Russia has blocked three U.N. Security Council resolutions aimed at pushing Assad out or pressuring him to end a civil war in which more than 60,000 people have died. But Moscow has also tried to distance itself from Assad by saying it is not trying to prop him up and will not offer him asylum.

Syrian state media said Assad received a senior Iranian official and told him Syria could withstand "threats ... and aggression" like an air attack on a military base last week, which Damascus has blamed on Israel.

"USELESS" TALKING TO IRAN

Politicians from the United States, Europe and the Middle East at the Munich Security Conference praised Alkhatib's "courage". But the moderate Islamist preacher was likely to face sharp criticism from the exiled leadership back in Cairo.   Continued...

 
Sheikh Moaz Alkhatib, President of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces and U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden (R) meet for bilateral talks during the 49th Conference on Security Policy in Munich February 2, 2013. REUTERS/Michael Dalder