(Reuters) – Fresh Russian efforts to encourage Syrian peace talks are unlikely to make progress because Moscow rejects opposition and Western calls for the swift departure of President Bashar al-Assad.
Moscow has long-supported Assad, including with arms supplies for Syria, but he has become a more important ally for Russia since the Arab Spring protests toppled leaders in the Middle East, some of whom had close ties with Moscow.
With its influence in the Middle East weakened and relationship with the West under increasing strain over the conflict in Ukraine, Moscow is trying to restart Syria talks that collapsed in Geneva in February.
Russia says the rise of Islamic State militants, who control large swathes of land in Syria and Iraq, has made it urgent to unite all forces against them. But Western diplomats say Moscow is not offering any new solutions.
Moscow has invited Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem to visit this week after a similar trip by a former Syrian opposition chief earlier this month.
“It is important that constructive Syrian opposition forces restart political dialogue with official (representatives of) Damascus in the face of dangerous challenges posed by international terrorism,” Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said on Monday according to agency Interfax.
Russia says cooperating with Damascus is indispensable for fighting “terrorists” on the ground. The United States refused to cooperate with Assad in a campaign of U.S.-led strikes on Islamic State and other groups that started in September.