MOSCOW: Russia, one of the few powers to maintain links with the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad, has sent an invitation for talks to the head of the opposition Syria National Coalition, a top diplomat said Friday.
Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told the RIA Novosti news agency the talks with National Coalition head Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib could take place in Moscow or a foreign location like Geneva or Cairo.
"The invitation has been handed over, it is in the hands of Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib," Bogdanov said.
Russia has so far strongly criticised moves by Western and anti-Assad Arab states to recognise the National Coalition as legitimate representatives of the Syrian people since the group was formed last month.
Yet Russia is also involved in a frantic round of year-end diplomacy seeking to end the crisis.
A Syrian deputy foreign minister visited Moscow on Thursday and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is to meet UN-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in the Russian capital on Saturday.
Russia had already indicated it was ready to hold talks with the Syrian opposition who until now have regarded Moscow with suspicion over its refusal to break ties with the Assad regime.
Bogdanov also said he expected there to be a new three-way meeting between Brahimi and US and Russian representatives on the Syrian crisis in January.
"We will hear what Lakhdar Brahimi says about the Syrian crisis and likely there will be a decision on a new 'triple B' meeting with Lakhdar Brahimi, (US Deputy Secretary of State) William Burns and Mikhail Bogdanov," he said.
"But this will be in January, after the (Russian New Year) holidays," Bogdanov said.