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AFP

Syrian foreign minister, rebel chief to visit Moscow

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem and opposition National Coalition chief Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib will make separate visits to Moscow for talks in the coming weeks, a top Russian diplomat said Wednesday.

Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told the RIA Novosti news agency that Muallem would visit Russia by the end of February while Khatib would come in the next two or three weeks.

Final dates for both visits were still being agreed, he added.

Syrian state television reported that the Syrian Foreign Ministry "welcomes the invitation for Muallem to meet with his Russian counterpart.”

It stressed that the Syrian foreign minister would not be meeting personally with opposition leader Khatib.

Dialogue with the opposition will only be held "on Syrian soil,” the ministry said.

In a statement posted on his Facebook page on Sunday, Khatib proposed that the dialogue take place in "liberated areas," in rebel-controlled northern Syria.

Moscow, a staunch supporter of the Damascus regime, had expressed support for a January offer by Khatib to hold talks with regime representatives.

Muallem would visit Russia by the end of February while Khatib would come in the next two or three weeks.