Russia's Lavrov welcomes start of 'decisive' Syria talks
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday welcomed the start of UN-sponsored Syria peace talks in Geneva, saying efforts to resolve the conflict were entering a crucial time.
"Regarding Syria talks, this period is decisive," Lavrov said at a press conference in Abu Dhabi with Emirati counterpart Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.
In remarks translated into Arabic, Lavrov said the talks needed to be "comprehensive" and to aim for "reaching common ground between the government and the opposition".
The UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, is hosting the talks this week in the Swiss city.
On Tuesday he met with representatives of President Bashar al-Assad's regime and was to hold talks later with the main opposition umbrella group, the High Negotiations Committee (HNC).
Lavrov, whose country is a staunch supporter of Assad, said "only Syrians themselves can decide the fate of their country".
"We welcome the start of the inter-Syrian talks in Geneva. They are just beginning and a search for the best ways to conduct these negotiations is under way," Russian state news agency RIA Novosti quoted Lavrov as saying.
He said the presence at the talks of representatives of powerful rebel groups Jaish al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham -- whose participation has been criticised by Damascus and its allies -- did not mean they had been recognised as "negotiation partners".
"We agreed -- and the government delegation agreed -- that if they take part in negotiations, they will do so in a personal capacity," Lavrov was quoted as saying by Interfax.
© 2016 AFP