Russia: Extremists in Syria opposition blocking dialogue

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. (AFP/Kirill Kudryavtsev)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday slammed "extremists" within the Syrian opposition who he said were blocking the start of dialogue in the war-torn country by making unrealistic demands.

Speaking hours before meeting new US Secretary of State John Kerry for the first time in Berlin, Lavrov said that recent faint hopes that dialogue was possible between the opposition and the regime of Bashar al-Assad had dissipated.

"Several days ago we thought that the conditions had become more clear for the sides to sit at the negotiating table and begin discussing the future of their country," Lavrov told reporters after meeting with counterpart from the Netherlands Frans Timmermans.

"There emerged voices in favor of urgently starting such dialogue, without prerequisite conditions."

However these voices were later silenced, he added. "Blood continues to be shed and statements are being made which move away the prospect of starting dialogue."

"It seems that extremists who bet on an armed solution to the Syrian problem have prevailed in the ranks of the opposition at this time, including the so-called [Syrian] National Coalition, blocking all initiatives that could lead to the start of dialogue," Lavrov said.

Other countries with leverage over the Syrian problem seem to "increasingly understand the need to influence both the government and the opposition, to convince them not to put forward unrealistic demands as prerequisites for starting dialogue," Lavrov said.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem had said in Moscow on Monday that the authorities in Damascus were ready to talk to armed rebels.

"We are ready for dialogue with all who want dialogue, including those who are carrying arms," Muallem said, the first time a senior official of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime has made such a proposal.

But the rebel Free Syrian Army's chief of staff Salim Idriss dismissed Muallem's offer.

Kerry flew into Berlin for a visit that will include talks on Tuesday with Lavrov to try to agree on a way to end the crisis, over which the two countries are deeply divided.

Rebels have been fighting the Assad regime since an uprising against his rule in March 2011 and now control large parts of the country, especially in the north. According to the UN, the fighting has claimed 70,000 lives.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. (AFP/Kirill Kudryavtsev)

Blood continues to be shed and statements are being made which move away the prospect of starting dialogue.