Syria's opposition leader has rejected an invitation to visit Russia for peace talks, dealing another blow to international hopes that diplomacy can end the nation's 21-month civil war.
Moaz Alkhatib, whose six-week-old National Coalition has been recognised by most Western and Arab states as the legitimate voice of the Syrian people, said on Al Jazeera television yesterday that he had already ruled out such a trip and wanted an apology from Moscow for its support for President Bashar al-Assad.
"We have clearly said we will not go to Moscow. We could meet in an Arab country if there was a clear agenda," he said. "Now we also want an apology from [Russian Foreign Minister Sergei] Lavrov because all this time he [has] said that the people will decide their destiny, without foreign intervention. Russia is intervening and meanwhile all these massacres of the Syrian people have happened, treated as if they were a picnic."
He added that no negotiations could take place until Russia issued "a clear condemnation of the barbarity of the regime and [made] a clear call for Assad to step down." So far Russia has stuck to its position that rebels must negotiate with Assad's government, which has ruled since his father seized power in a coup 42 years ago.