Zurich/Riyadh: Internationally-brokered talks between Syria's government and opposition groups should start this month as planned, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday after talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Speaking after his meeting with Kerry in the Swiss city of Zurich, Lavrov told reporters neither he nor his US counterpart had thought about seeking a postponement of the talks, which are scheduled to start in Geneva on January 25.
Lavrov also said that a meeting this month between Kremlin aide Vladislav Surkov and US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland to talk about Ukraine had been an initiative of Russian President Vladimir Putin and US
leader Barack Obama.
Lavrov said contacts in this format were needed to help ensure a long-term solution for the conflict between Kiev's forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Meanwhile, at a news conference duting the World Economic Forum in Davos, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said that the opposition delegation at the centre of fierce diplomatic dispute should not include members of three internationally recognised "terrorist groups".
Those were IS, Al Qaeda and the Nusra Front.
But Zarif said it was not up to Iran to decide who attended the talks."That is for Mr de Mistura to decide who will participate and I'm sure he'll apply those criteria," he said.
Asked about Western demands that Assad should leave power as part of any settlement in Syria, the Iranian minister said it made no sense to set preconditions before the talks even began.
Syria's civil war had dragged on for nearly five years because many countries were entrenched in the position that Assad must go before there could be a political process.
"You cannot determine the outcome of this political process before it starts.
You do not enter a negotiating room with the outcome already decided," Zarif said.
He repeated Tehran's insistence that it was up to Syrians to decide Assad's fate through elections after a new constitution is negotiated in peace talks.
Furthermore, Riad Hijab, who heads the Syrian opposition council accused Russia of impeding negotiations, and also told a news conference in Riyadh that the opposition could not negotiate while Syrians were dying from blockades and bombardment.
He also announced the names of opposition figures that would negotiate on behalf of the council in any talks.
They included Mohamed Alloush, a political figure in the Jaysh Al Islamrebel group that is deemed a terrorist group by Damascus and Moscow.
"The opposition delegation is now ready," George Sabra, an opposition politician also named as a negotiator, told opposition channel Orient TV. Asaad Al Zoubi, another opposition figure, was named as the head of the negotiating team.