Opposition seeks allies 'without blood on their hands'
Published 16/02/2013 | 04:00
Syria's opposition coalition is ready to negotiate President Bashar al-Assad's exit with any member of his government who has not participated in his military crackdown on the uprising, coalition members say.
Syrian authorities have given no formal response to several offers of talks in recent weeks. But officials say they cannot accept pre-conditions about Mr Assad's departure and have privately dismissed what they say are no more than media initiatives.
The political chasm between the sides, along with diplomatic deadlock among world powers preventing effective intervention, has allowed fighting on the ground to rage on with almost 70,000 people killed in 22 months of conflict, by a UN estimate.
Opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib made an offer of negotiations last month without consulting the coalition's 70-member assembly, prompting criticism from a powerful bloc within the movement dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem is due to visit Moscow, one of Mr Assad's main foreign allies, later this month. Russia also hopes Mr al-Khatib will visit soon in search of a breakthrough to end the bloodiest of the Arab Spring uprisings.
But coalition members said yesterday no date has been set for an al-Khatib trip to Moscow and Syria's Foreign Ministry played down suggestions that Mr Moualem and Mr al-Khatib could meet there, saying any dialogue must take place in Syria.
An overnight meeting of the coalition's 12-member politburo in Cairo endorsed Mr al-Khatib's initiative, although it set guidelines for any peace talks which will be presented for approval by the full assembly next Thursday.
Another opposition member said next week's gathering of the full coalition would try to revive plans for a provisional government.
Walid Bunni, one of a handful of liberals in the Islamist-heavy assembly, told Reuters that Mr Assad and his military and intelligence officials could not be part of any negotiations.
"Bashar and his cohorts will not be party to any talks. We will not regard those present from the government's side as his representatives," Mr Bunni said.
He said the meeting addressed how to deal with Iran and Russia, Mr Assad's main supporters, after Mr al-Khatib met the foreign ministers of Russia and Iran in Munich earlier this month.