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Syrian officials head to Moscow for talks on crisis proposals

Dec. 26, 2012 2:45 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 29, 2012 8:49 P.M.)
By Erika Solomon and Laila Bassam

BEIRUT (Reuters) -- Syrian foreign ministry officials headed to Moscow on Wednesday to discuss proposals for ending Syria's 21-month-old crisis apparently made by international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, Syrian and Lebanese sources said.

Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Makdad and another aide will sound out Russian officials on the details of meetings with Brahimi in Damascus this week, a Syrian security source said.

A Lebanese official close to President Bashar Assad's government said Syrian officials were upbeat after talks with the UN-Arab League envoy, who met Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moualem on Tuesday and Assad himself the day before.

"There is a new mood now and something good is happening," the official said, asking not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue. "Of course now they (Syrian officials) want to meet with their allies to discuss these new developments."

More than 44,000 Syrians have died in the revolt against four decades of Assad family rule, a conflict that began with peaceful protests but which has descended into civil war.

Brahimi is in Syria for a week of talks with government officials and some dissidents, but has so far said nothing about any new proposals or developments.

Earlier in December, he held tripartite meetings between Russia, Syria's main arms supplier and an Assad ally, and the United States, which has thrown its weight behind the opposition. While both sides said they wanted a political settlement, neither changed their stance on Assad.

Brahimi's previous proposal centered on a transitional government which left open Assad's future role, something which became a sticking point between the government, the opposition and foreign powers backing different sides.

Opposition leaders have been wary of recent diplomatic efforts, including those led by Brahimi.

Moaz Alkhatib, the head of the opposition's National Coalition, argued against any deal that did not require Assad's removal and said the group had repeatedly made this clear.

"We have told every official we have met: the government and its president cannot stay on in power, with or without their powers. This is unacceptable to Syrians," he wrote on his Facebook page on Monday.

"The coalition leadership has told Lakhdar Brahimi directly that this type of solution is rejected."
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