Russia proposes talks with US over Syria

'Suggesting that someone step aside – elegantly or not – is something Russia has never done,' presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to state news agency Tass.

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LONDON // Russia has proposed holding “military-to-military” talks on Syria with the United States, said secretary of state John Kerry on Wednesday, amid concern about Moscow’s continued buildup of equipment in the war-ravaged nation.

“The Russians proposed ... that we have a military-to-military conversation and meeting in order to discuss the issue of precisely what would be done,” Mr Kerry said a day after a telephone conversation with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

He also stressed that Moscow’s military support for the regime of Syrian president Bashar Al Assad could spark an escalation of the conflict.

The announcement came as the Kremlin denied a claim by a senior negotiator that Russia had offered in 2012 to make Syria’s president step down in an “elegant way”, saying it never called for regime change.

Dismissing the allegation, president Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “I can only once more repeat that Russia is not involved in changing regimes. Suggesting that someone step aside – elegantly or not – is something Russia has never done.”

Former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari told British newspaper The Guardian that Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, had met him privately in 2012 and suggested finding “an elegant way for Assad to step aside”.

“He said three things: One – we should not give arms to the opposition. Two – we should get a dialogue going between the opposition and Assad straight away. Three – we should find an elegant way for Assad to step aside,” Mr Ahtisaari said. Mr Peskov denied the allegation.

Israel on Wednesday joined an international chorus of concern over Russia’s military involvement in Syria, announcing that Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu would meet president Vladimir Putin in Moscow next week to discuss the issue.

* Agence France-Presse and Reuters