NATO need not apply: Syrian opposition in Moscow for talks
The Syrian delegation arrived in Moscow on Tuesday at the Russian authorities' invitation. The visit includes meetings in the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Federation Council with the aim of laying the groundwork for a peaceful conclusion to the violence besieging this Arab country.
The United Nations estimates that 3,500 people have been killed in Syria since mid-March.
Syria’s opposition is ready to hold negotiations with those "who have not smeared their hands with blood," the Syrian National Council's head Burhan Ghalioun told journalists in Moscow.
The SNC representative stressed that the opposition wants to achieve peace through dialogue, but not with those government officials responsible for murder.
"We are ready to cooperate with representatives of the authorities who have not killed the Syrian people,” he said. “Our aim is to find a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis through talks in order to avoid external military intervention."
Ghalioun then made it clear that the opposition has no interest in settling its differences with Syrian President Bashar Assad.
"We told our Russian colleagues that if talks are to begin, we deem it necessary for Russia and the world community to release an important signal and to demand Bashar al-Assad's resignation," he said after talks at the Russian Foreign Ministry.
The embattled Syrian leader is increasingly feeling the pressure of international isolation.
On Saturday, the Arab League gave the Syrian opposition a huge boost by voting to suspend Syria from the organization over attacks on protesters. Of the Arab League's 22 members, only Syria, Lebanon and Yemen voted against the suspension, with Iraq abstaining.
Speaking at a news conference in Damascus, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem called Saturday's vote at the Arab League's headquarters in Cairo "shameful and malicious”, as well as “illegitimate”.
"I have here a study issued by the Arab League, which states that the suspension of the League is illegal and violating the Charter of the League," he said, showing the document to reporters.
"This decision needs the agreement of all Arab countries together, and that is not what occurred."
A similar Arab League decision to suspend Libya's membership earlier this year paved the way for the controversial NATO airstrikes, which Russia said recklessly endangered the lives of innocent civilians, while at the same time taking sides with the Libyan opposition.
Thus far, Syria’s opposition is wary of requesting international intervention.
Meanwhile, King Abdullah of Jordan said on Tuesday that President Assad should step down, making him the first Arab leader to issue such an appeal.
Damascus continues to look to Russia as mediator in the conflict.
"I consider that Russia and China will not change their stance on Syria in the UN Security Council,” al-Moallem said. “And I am confident that Russia wants to keep on playing a role in the National Dialogue, which is a positive point."
Ahead of his talks with the opposition delegation, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow wants Syria to escape the fate of Libya, where an estimated 30,000 were killed as NATO forces joined the oppositional forces.
“We will certainly try to get them to understand our concern," Lavrov said.