Syria says ready to talk with armed opposition

Mon Feb 25, 2013 3:21pm EST
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By Thomas Grove and Steve Gutterman

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Syria is ready for talks with its armed opponents, Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said on Monday, in the clearest offer yet to negotiate with rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad.

But Moualem said at the same time Syria would pursue its fight "against terrorism", alluding to the conflict in which the United Nations says 70,000 people have been killed.

His offer of talks drew a dismissive response from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who was starting a nine-nation tour of European and Arab capitals in London.

"It seems to me that it's pretty hard to understand how, when you see the Scuds falling on the innocent people of Aleppo, it is possible to take their notion that they are ready to have a dialogue very seriously," Kerry said.

He said U.S. President Barack Obama was evaluating more steps to "fulfill our obligation to innocent people", without giving details or saying whether Washington was reconsidering whether to arm the rebels, an option it has previously rejected.

"We are determined that the Syrian opposition is not going to be dangling in the wind," Kerry said.

Obama has carefully avoided deeper U.S. involvement in Syria, at the heart of a volatile Middle East, as he has withdrawn troops from Iraq and extracts them from Afghanistan.

Assad and his foes are locked in a bloody stalemate after nearly two years of combat, destruction and civilian suffering that threatens to destabilize neighboring countries.   Continued...

Destroyed buildings are seen on streets filled with debris in Homs, February 19, 2013, in this picture provided by the Shaam News Network. Picture taken February 19, 2013.