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Syria foreign minister to visit Moscow

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Russia on Tuesday announced that Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem would visit Moscow next week for talks aimed at finding a way out of the two-year Syria conflict.

Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said Muallem would be in Moscow on February 25 "to discuss the Syria crisis and measures aimed at beginning dialogue" with the opposition.

But Gatilov -- Russia's pointman on the conflict -- added that Syria's National Coalition opposition leader Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib had still not accepted an invitation to visit Russia later this month.

Moscow appeared to have hoped to have the two visits coincide so they could present an opportunity for the Syrian government and the opposition to hold their first direct negotiations.

"There has been no specific decision on this account," Gatilov said of Khatib's visit. "There are no concrete dates for his visit to Moscow."

Khatib had said earlier he would only be willing to meet Russian officials at a neutral venue due to Moscow's support for President Bashar al-Assad.

Russia has vetoed three UN Security Council resolution censuring Assad for the violence and continues supplying the Syrian government with military hardware that Western and Arab nations believe are helping Damascus press on with its military campaign.

Gatilov confirmed that Russia continues to supply arms to Assad but argued that the shipments were legal because they were made under contracts signed before the violence broke out in March 2011.

"Yes, we have made deliveries within frameworks of previously agreed contracts. We made no secret about that," said Gatilov.

"All of this activity is being conducted within legitimate frameworks. What was agreed in the past in terms of special equipment and special technology is being realised."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130219/syria-foreign-minister-visit-moscow