Syria, Russia top diplomats to meet as talks pressure builds

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem was to hold talks in Moscow Monday with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov as Russia puts pressure on both the opposition and the Syrian regime to open direct talks to end their two-year conflict.

Lavrov said last week there were positive signs from both sides of a new willingness to talk but called on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad to turn oft-stated words about its readiness for dialogue into deeds.

"Russia is increasing its efforts for a rapid solution to the Syrian crisis," a Russian foreign ministry official told the RIA Novosti news agency. "We are working to this end with both the government, the opposition and influential external forces," the official added.

It was not immediately clear if Muallem had arrived in Moscow but the foreign ministry has scheduled a photo spray for his initial meeting with Lavrov at around 0830 GMT.

Muallem’s visit is a rare trip by a top Syrian official outside the country. Russia is however one of the few major powers to maintain any kind of ties with Assad’s regime.

Lavrov said last week that there was no military solution for the conflict and seeking an outcome through war would lead to "mutual destruction".

The fighting -- which according to the United Nations has claimed 70,000 lives since the conflict began in March 2011 -- has further intensified in the last days as both sides press for the military advantage.

"Neither side can allow itself to bet on a military settlement as this is a path to nowhere, a path to mutual destruction," Lavrov said.

Russia has also been working on agreeing a trip to Moscow, possibly in early March, by the head of the Syrian opposition National Coalition Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib.

However the rebels have now pulled out of talks with foreign powers in protest at the international community's inability to halt the bloodshed.