Syria says it’s ready for talks with armed rebels
Syria is ready to hold talks with the armed opposition trying to topple President Bashar Assad, the country's foreign minister said Monday, in the government's most advanced offer yet to try to resolve the 2-year-old civil war through negotiations.
Walid al-Moallem did not say whether rebel fighters would first have to lay down their arms before negotiations could begin, a key sticking point in the past. Still, the proposal marked the first time that a high-ranking Syrian official has stated publicly that the government would meet with opposition fighters.
"We're ready for a dialogue with anyone who's willing for it," al-Moallem said in Moscow ahead of talks with his Russian counterpart, "even with those who carry arms. We are confident that reforms will come about not with the help of bloodshed but through dialogue."
One rebel commander welcomed the idea of talks, but only on the condition that Assad and those who are responsible for the bloodshed are put on trial.
Syria's 23-month-old conflict, which has killed more than 70,000 people and destroyed many of the country's cities, has repeatedly confounded international efforts to bring the parties together to end the bloodshed. Russia, a close ally of Assad and his regime's chief international advocate, offered last Wednesday, in concert with the Arab League, to broker talks between the rebels and the government.
The proposal — which the Kremlin would be unlikely to float publicly without first securing word from Damascus that it would indeed take part — suggested the regime could be warming to the idea of a settlement as it struggles to hold territory and win back ground it has lost to the rebels.
Syria's rebels have scored several tactical victories in recent weeks, capturing the nation's largest hydroelec- tric dam and overtaking airbases in the northeast. In Damascus, they have advanced from their strongholds in the suburbs into neighborhoods in the northeast and southern rim of the capital, while peppering the center of the city with mortar rounds for days.