Syrian National Council in Moscow for first-ever talks

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (R) meets with Syrian opposition leaders in Moscow July 11, 2012 (Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin)
In an effort to pave the way for a peaceful resolution to the Syrian crisis, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with the head of a major Syrian opposition group in the Russian capital.

It was the first time Russia has engaged directly with the major opposition movement, the Syrian National Council (SNC).

In the course of the two-hour meeting, Lavrov forwarded Russia's position that the most effective way for the Syrian government and opposition groups to resolve their longstanding conflict is to follow the Annan Plan.

"By having backed the (Annan) peace plan, we confirmed a commitment (by both sides in the conflict) to immediately cease violence and enter into a dialogue,” the Russian minister said following talks in Moscow. “This will allow the Syrians themselves to decide on their fate."

Seyda described his talks with Lavrov as “constructive." 

"Moscow has put forth the draft that we will discuss,” he said. “We agreed to continue the contacts."

Meanwhile, the Syrian opposition remains adamant about not wanting to start a national dialogue until President Bashar al-Assad resigns, a position that seems to have helped perpetuate the violence in the Arab country.

"I want to confirm our position on behalf the Syrian opposition,” Sayda said. “There is no dialogue till al-Assad resigns.”

Russia has been at loggerheads with the West over the most effective way of settling the Syrian crisis, which is pitting the anti-government Syrian opposition against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

To date, the Syrian opposition has expressed its refusal to hold talks with the Syrian leader, which has brought the crisis to something of a stalemate.

Shortly after arriving in Moscow on Wednesday, Sayda told reporters he was looking forward to discussing with Lavrov a number of proposals on how to settle the crisis in Syria.

"We have arrived here in order to search, together with Russia, for ways out of the crisis in Syria," the head of the oppositional SNC said. "We have definite proposals and ideas, and would like to convey them."

Lavrov expressed a desire to understand the prospects for unifying the diverse factions of the Syrian opposition.

"We are interested in your assessments of the situation inside of the opposition movement, as well as SNC relations with other groups of the external opposition,” the Russian minister said prior to his meeting with Sayda.

Lavrov added that Russia is eager to understand “how great the prospects are, and how stable the prospect is, for unification of all opposition groups (in order to have) dialogue with the government, as envisaged by Kofi Annan's plan and approved by the UN Security Council."

Concerning the issue of Russia honoring its past contractual agreements with Syria on defensive weapon sales, Russia said it is prepared to halt deliveries if there is evidence that the weapons are being misused.

Speaking on the future of the Russian supply base in Tartus, Seyda said that the subject would be discussed with other issues concerning military cooperation Syria and Russia "on the basis of mutual interests and without…arbitrariness."

In addition to talks with Lavrov, the SNC delegation held talks with Mikhail Bogdanov, special presidential representative for the Middle East and deputy minister of foreign affairs, as well as members of the Federation Council Committee on International Affairs.

Robert Bridge, RT