MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Syrian opposition must not be allowed to set conditions for attending a peace conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in comments published on Tuesday.
Despite pressure on President Vladimir Putin at a G8 summit to tone down Russian support for Bashar al-Assad, Lavrov signaled there was no change in Moscow's view that the Syrian leader's exit cannot be a precondition for the peace talks.
He said both sides in Syria's civil war must "refrain from setting any preconditions," a reference to a statement by the Syrian opposition last month that it would attend the peace conference only if a deadline was set for a settlement forcing Assad to leave power.
"We categorically oppose ... affirmations that the conference should become a kind of public act of capitulation by the government delegation, with the subsequent handover of power in Syria to the opposition," he said in remarks published on the Russian Foreign Ministry's website.
Russia and the United States are working together to arrange the peace conference. Suggesting Russia had done its part to get Assad to the negotiating table, Lavrov said Syria's government had agreed to take part in the conference and formed a negotiating team to be led by Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem.
"With the opposition it is more difficult," he said, adding that Syrian opposition calls for the government's removal were out of line with efforts to reach a consensus on a path to peace.
(Writing by Steve Gutterman, Editing by Timothy Heritage)