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Lavrov wants 'regular contact' with Syrian opposition

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Saturday he wants to keep in regular contact with Syria's opposition after holding his first direct talks with the coalition's leader, Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, Russian news agencies reported.

"I reminded Khatib that after the creation of the coalition and the appointment of their leader, we immediately demonstrated our interest in maintaining regular contact," Lavrov said after the meeting on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.

"We will make that happen," he added.

Lavrov had earlier Saturday held separate talks with US Vice President Joe Biden and UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi amid strong disagreement between Moscow and Washington about ways to end the Syria conflict.

Khatib, elected as the head of the coalition late last year, made a surprise announcement Wednesday that his group was ready for dialogue with the Damascus regime under certain conditions. He renewed the proposal in Munich, while rejecting the presence of leaders he said had "blood on their hands."

Lavrov said Moscow "welcomed" the initiative, adding: "If we take into account the fact that the coalition was founded on the refusal to engage in a dialogue with the regime, it's a very important step."

The minister said it meant that "realism prevails," adding that "thinking is headed in the right direction."

Russia's top diplomat also said Moscow shared Washington's concern about the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria but considered the situation to be safe at this stage.

"We coordinate this issue (chemical weapons) with the Americans on a daily basis. We have reliable information that for now, the Syrian government has control of the chemical weapons, that the situation is safe," Lavrov said in his address to the conference.

"I think that this (the use of chemical weapons) is a 'red line' for everyone. We are categorically against the use of any arms," he said.

Russia has blocked three UN Security Council resolutions sanctioning Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the violent crackdown in his country, and has been blamed by the armed opposition for being partially responsible for the bloodshed.

Talks between Moscow and rebel leaders have been rare and on one previous occasion last year ended with the opposition demanding a formal apology from Russia for its stance.

The US vice president stressed that "great differences" remain between Washington and Moscow.

Biden expressed hope that the international community increases its support for opponents of Assad, whom he called a "tyrant" who must go.

Lavrov also said that John Kerry, the new US secretary of state, should be making his way to Russia soon.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130202/lavrov-wants-regular-contact-syrian-opposition