Top Assad officials in Moscow to discuss Syria talks

MOSCOW - A senior Syrian regime delegation was Monday in Moscow to hold talks with top Russian diplomats on plans to hold a peace conference in Geneva to end the Syria conflict, the foreign ministry said.

President Bashar al-Assad's presidential adviser Buthaina Shaaban and Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad were in Moscow and would hold talks with Gennady Gatilov and Mikhail Bogdanov, who are both Russian deputy foreign ministers, it said.

"The official Syrian delegation has arrived in Moscow and will hold talks at the foreign ministry," the Russian foreign ministry was quoted as saying by the Interfax and RIA Novosti news agencies.

Syrian regime officials had said earlier the talks would focus on preparations for the proposed peace conference in Geneva which Russia and the United States originally wanted to hold in May but which has been repeatedly put back.

According to the Syrian opposition, Russia also invited the opposition National Coalition president Ahmed Jarba to Moscow from November 18 to 21 for a trip which would have coincided with the visit of the regime officials.

The opposition head was very interested in the invitation but regretted being unable to visit Moscow on Monday, due to "preset official commitments", adviser Munzer Aqbiq told AFP Sunday.

The proposed peace conference on Syria dubbed Geneva II aims to bring government and rebel representatives to the negotiating table for the first time.

The opposition Coalition has agreed to attend the peace talks so long as they lead to a transitional period that would see Assad's departure from power.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday held his first telephone talks with Assad in two years, applauding Damascus for its willingness to attend the peace conference.

More about