Russia doubts new Syria opposition head's commitment to peace

MOSCOW Mon Jul 8, 2013 11:06am EDT

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia said on Monday that remarks by the new leader of the opposition Syrian National Coalition have raised questions about his dedication to a political solution of the conflict, and urged the group to commit to attending a peace conference.

Ahmad Jarba, elected president of the coalition on Saturday, told Reuters the opposition would not go to the conference that Russia and the United States are trying to convene in Geneva unless its military fortunes improve.

"The first statements by the new leader of the National Coalition ... raise a whole series of questions about its prospective actions and, most important, about its commitment to a political solution of the prolonged crisis in Syria," Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement.

"What is needed from the new leadership of the National Coalition is a clear and unequivocal expression of readiness to send representatives to the peace conference in Geneva," he said in a statement. He added that Russia was open to establishing contacts with the opposition group's new leadership.

Russia and the United States announced on May 7 that they would try to bring Syrian government and opposition representatives together at a international conference to seek an end to a war that has killed more than 100,000 people since March 2011, but no date has been set.

Russia, which has given crucial diplomatic support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during the conflict and says his exit from power must not be a precondition for peace talks, has suggested that the main obstacles to the conference are disunity and a lack of commitment among the opposition.

(Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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