The opposition was not seeking President Bashar al-Assad’s removal from office as a precondition for talks

Damascus : The Syrian opposition has urged Russia to salvage the UN peace talks in Geneva this week by persuading the Syrian government delegation to begin direct face-to-face discussions, the media reported on Tuesday.

Basma Kodami, a leading member of the opposition negotiating team, urged the visiting Russian delegation to show they wanted to capitalise on the end of military operations in Syria by building a lasting peace, reports the Guardian.

The opposition was not seeking President Bashar al-Assad’s removal from office as a precondition for talks, she said, but his departure remained its objective.

She said she could not see how Assad could ever be regarded as a legitimate candidate in fresh Presidential elections overseen by the UN.

She said the focus of the talks this week should be on a new Constitution and arrangements for a Presidential election, not Assad’s future. On Monday, the Syrian government delegation returned to Geneva for a meeting with the UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura.

It had left the city prematurely last week, claiming there was no point talking to an opposition that demanded Assad’s withdrawal, a stance that prompted De Mistura to warn he would judge this week whether any party was seeking to sabotage the process.

It is not clear whether President Vladimir Putin underlined the message when he briefly visited Syria on Monday for a meeting with Assad where he claimed a military victory and announced a partial troop drawdown.

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