Inter-Syrian consultations start in Moscow

Consultations between Syrian authorities and the opposition began in Moscow on Monday.

Consultations between Syrian authorities and the opposition began in Moscow on Monday. The meeting is taking place behind closed doors at the Russian Foreign Ministry's Mansion. The consultations are due to end on January 29.

A Russian diplomat told Interfax earlier that over 30 representatives of various opposition forces but the National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces (NCSROF) would attend the consultations.

Syrian officials are due to join in the opposition debates in two days.

"The list of participants has been changing rapidly and expanding so it will be possible to definitely say who will attend the event only when it starts on January 26. We think more than 30 people will make an appearance," the diplomat said.

"Damascus officials have also confirmed their presence and a Syrian governmental delegation will come here and take part in the event. They will be arriving later," he said.

The diplomat said the Syrian opposition would be represented on a high level in spite of the NCSROF decision not to attend the consultations.

"The Syrian opposition will be represented on a rather serious level. Lots of serious entities backed up by their supporters, people, primarily those who live in Syria, have confirmed their attendance," the source said.

"The NCSROF has refused to attend and made an official statement to that effect. Moscow sent individual invitations. The National Coalition does not represent the entire opposition so their refusal to come here should not be seen as a tragedy. That's their problem," he said.

A NCSROF representative said earlier that the coalition would take no part in the informal consultations of the opponents of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Moscow.

"None of us will go there. We have sent a relevant notice to the Russian Foreign Ministry," a coalition representative told Interfax on the phone from Istanbul.

The Syria National Coordination Body, a leading opposition group operating inside Syria, has agreed to attend the conference.

"The goal of our party is to stop the suffering of Syrians and the destruction caused by almost four years of war," party leader Hassan Abdel Azim told the news agency EFE.

The Syrian government said it was ready to have a dialogue with the opposition for the sake of settling the crisis. The readiness was declared by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mualem.

He told Syrian reporters that the Syrian government "would render comprehensive support to that dialogue" on the orders from President Bashar al-Assad.

In contrast to two rounds of inter-Syrian negotiations held in Geneva with the mediation of the UN special envoy for Syria, "this dialogue will develop between the Syrians themselves," al-Mualem said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov hopes that the negotiations will shift the dialogue between various opposition groups and Damascus to a practical plane.

"If there is certain chemistry, not in the literal but in the political sense of this word, it may help Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General for Syria Staffan de Mistura organize a more formal process," Lavrov said earlier.

"There is a need for a calm, commercial-free conversation between parties directly involved in this process: the government and various opposition groups, and the opposition needs to be representative," the minister emphasized.

He noted that the Moscow meeting "would not engage any official representatives of Russia. Our scientists who have known opposition members for years will simply help them [start the dialogue] and give them the floor but the conversation needs to be maintained by the Syrians themselves."

Washington welcomed the Russian initiative to arrange inter-Syrian contacts. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said the United States hailed any effort to discuss the Syrian problem and time would show whether that meeting could bring results.

In the opinion of Washington, it would be useful for Syrian opposition groups to participate in those negotiations, Psaki said.

She added they shall see what would come of that.

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