Syrian opposition won't talk to officials linked to crackdown

Fri Feb 15, 2013 2:21pm EST
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By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

AMMAN (Reuters) - Syria's opposition coalition is ready to negotiate President Bashar al-Assad's exit with any member of his government who has not participated in his military crackdown on the uprising, coalition members said on Friday.

Syrian authorities have given no formal response to several offers of talks in recent weeks. But officials say they cannot accept pre-conditions about Assad's departure and have privately dismissed what they say are no more than media initiatives.

The political chasm between the sides, along with a lack of opposition influence over rebel fighters on the ground and an international diplomatic deadlock preventing effective intervention, has allowed fighting to rage on with almost 70,000 people killed in 22 months of conflict, by a U.N. estimate.

Opposition leader Moaz Alkhatib made an offer of negotiations last month without consulting the coalition's 70-member assembly, prompting criticism from a powerful bloc within the movement dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem is due to visit Moscow, one of Assad's main foreign allies, later this month. Russia also hopes Alkhatib will visit soon in search of a breakthrough to end the bloodiest of the Arab Spring uprisings.

But coalition members say no date has been set for an Alkhatib trip to Moscow and Syria's Foreign Ministry played down suggestions that Moualem and he could meet there, saying any dialogue must take place in Syria.

An overnight meeting of the coalition's 12-member politburo in Cairo endorsed Alkhatib's initiative, although it set guidelines for any peace talks which will be presented for approval by the full assembly next Thursday.

"These guidelines stipulate that Bashar al-Assad and all the security and military leaders that (have) participated in the killing of the Syrian people and whose hands are stained with blood have no place in the Syria of the future," coalition member Abdulbaset Sieda told Reuters in Cairo after the meeting.   Continued...

A member of the Free Syrian Army takes aim with his gun during clashes with forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in the old city of Aleppo February 15, 2013. REUTERS/Muzaffar Salman