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Syria: Ready for talks with armed opposition

By The Associated Press

This article was published February 25, 2013 at 8:32 a.m.

— The Syria government is ready to hold talks with the armed opposition seeking to topple President Bashar Assad’s regime, the country’s foreign minister said Monday.

Walid al-Moallem, who was in Moscow to discuss Syria’s civil war with Russian officials, did not say whether the rebels would first have to lay down their arms before Damascus would agree to sit with them at the negotiating table.

Still, the offer 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. “Even with those who carry arms. We are confident that reforms will come about not with the help of bloodshed but through dialogue.”

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 Assad ally and his regime’s chief advocate on the international stage, offered last Wednesday to broker talks in concert with the Arab League between the rebels and the government.

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