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SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday it is crucial for Syrian opposition envoys to engage in peace talks without setting preconditions, apparently referring to demands for President Bashar al-Assad's removal.
Lavrov also reiterated that Iran must be invited to the conference that Russia and the United States are trying to organize to seek a resolution to the more than two-year-old conflict that has killed at least 80,000 people.
Days after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in Russia that the conference should be held "as soon as possible" so that momentum is not lost, Lavrov said timing was far less important than ensuring there is a chance for success.
"It's important to put the main things first, and in this sense I am convinced that timing is the last thing that should be decided, when the most important things are agreed," he said after talks with the visiting Council of Europe secretary-general, Thorbjorn Jagland.
"The main thing is to ensure the agreement of opposition groups to participate in the conference without preliminary conditions," he told a news conference. He said Western nations should press Assad's foes not to demand "unrealistic things".
Lavrov also said he had "no doubt that it is obligatory to invite all neighbors of Syria without exception. Iran, as you know, is a neighbor of Syria." Iran shares no border with Syria but has long been Assad's staunchest ally in the region.
(Reporting by Denis Dyomkin; Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Alissa de Carbonnel and Mark Heinrich)