ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday Western states must persuade the Syrian opposition to attend talks with President Bashar al-Assad’s government which he said should take place as soon as possible.
Russia, which backs Assad, and the United States, which supports the opposition, announced plans in May to convene a “Geneva 2” conference to try to end the Syrian conflict, which has killed well over 100,000 people since March 2011.
But no date has been set. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said this month that the target was now mid-December.
“Russia took on the responsibility of convincing the Syrian leadership. We did our part. It is up to our partners, who must convince the opposition to do the same,” Putin said at a joint news conference with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.
Russia has been Assad’s strongest supporter, while Turkey backs the opposition. Putin and Erdogan voiced starkly different views of who is responsible for the bloodshed in Syria.
Putin, who said his telephone conversation with Assad last week was their first direct contact since 2007, said the Syrian leader cares about the humanitarian crisis in his country. Putin said Islamist militants were to blame for much of the violence.
Erdogan said delays to the peace conference were simply buying time for Assad. “The civilian population has been killed with planes, helicopters, tanks and shells. In Syria, the regime bears the primary responsibility for this,” he declared.
Reporting by Alexei Anishchuk and Daren Butler; Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Steve Gutterman and Alistair Lyon