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Russian FM denies postponing Syrian peace congress

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has denied postponing an upcoming “Syrian Congress” which would bring together Syria’s warring sides in the Russian city of Sochi.

“This congress is being prepared now,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters on Tuesday.

“No one has postponed it because the date of the congress has not been officially announced,” he added.

The seventh round of peace talks between the Syrian government and the opposition was held in the Kazakh capital city of Astana in late October, with the three guarantor states agreeing on the Russian initiative for holding the Syrian Congress.

The Russian Foreign Ministry’s website had initially set November 18 as the date for the event, listing 33 Syrian organizations to take part at the conference.

Russia says the key task of the event is to pave the way for constitutional reforms.

On Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said the Kremlin had told Ankara it was postponing the event.

In reaction, Lavrov said on Tuesday that Moscow was in touch with Turkey, Iran, the Persian Gulf nations and other countries to set the agenda and date for the congress.

Representatives of the Syrian government opposition take part in the seventh round of Syria peace talks in Astana on September 15, 2017. (AFP photo)

Russia is also consulting the Syrian government and a number of opposition forces as well as the UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, Lavrov said.

He pointed to some Syrian opposition groups’ refusal to hold talks with President Bashar al-Assad’s government at the congress, but noted that the existing feedback is “rather positive.”

Members of Syrian opposition High Negotiations Committee and the Turkey-based Syrian National Coalition (SNC) opposed Russia’s initiative, saying the plan seeks to circumvent the UN efforts to mediate Syrian peace talks in Geneva.

They stressed that they will not participate in any negotiations with Damascus outside Geneva or without UN sponsorship.

Lavrov called on global players to redouble efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the six-year war as the Syrian government is getting closer to victory in its anti-terror campaign.

“As far as the Syrian conflict is concerned, the political process is becoming ever more important,” he said. “The fight against terror in Syria is coming to an end. There should not be any breaks in the efforts of the international community.”

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