UPDATE 1-Russia: still chance for negotiated solution to Syria conflict

Sat Dec 29, 2012 5:44am EST

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MOSCOW Dec 29 (Reuters) - Russia said on Saturday that a negotiated solution to the conflict in Syria is still possible but the international mediator struggling to end 21 months of bloodshed warned of "hell" unless a deal is struck.

Sergei Lavrov and Lakhdar Brahimi announced no major new initiatives after talks in Moscow and their remarks underscored the obstacles the U.N.-Arab League envoy faces in bringing about a solution.

"If the only alternative is hell or a political process, then all of us have to work continuously toward the political process," said Brahimi, adding it was still possible to reach "a solution that would work" but that the barriers were daunting.

"The chance for a political settlement remains and it is our obligation to make maximal use of that chance," Lavrov told reporters in a joint appearance after his talks with Brahimi, who met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad earlier in the week.

Lavrov, whose country has blocked Western and Arab efforts in the U.N. Security Council to put pressure on Assad, repeated that Assad's exit must not be a precondition for a political process, saying such demands were "wrong" and counterproductive.

He said the refusal of the Syrian opposition National Coalition to talk to the Syrian leadership was a "dead-end position", and criticised the coalition leader for rebuffing an invitation for talks with Russia.

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