Moscow: The Syrian capital of Damascus was two to three weeks away from falling to terrorists when Russia intervened in support of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a news conference on Tuesday.
He also said that he had information that some European countries were considering wrecking upcoming Syria peace talks in Kazakhstan because they felt left out.
Talks on the nearly six-year-old conflict, organised by Turkey, Russia and Iran, are set to begin on January 23 in the Kazakh capital Astana.
Lavrov, speaking to journalists at a news conference, said he hoped European countries would not make attempts to wreck the talks.
Moscow hopes for better relations with the United States based on respect for mutual interests once Donald Trump takes office, in contrast with the “messianic” approach of the outgoing administration that has ravaged ties, Lavrov said.
He added that Moscow is inviting representatives of the incoming US administration to attend Syria talks on Monday in Astana, which have been brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran.
He voiced hope that Russian and US experts could start discussions on fighting terrorism in Syria when Syrian government and opposition representatives meet.
Lavrov said that “we hope that the new administration will be able to accept that proposal,” adding that the talks in Astana will offer “the first opportunity to discuss a more efficient fight against terrorism in Syria.”
A Syrian daily reported on Tuesday that Syria’s UN ambassador will head the government delegation to upcoming peace talks, while the opposition said it would be represented by rebel negotiator Mohammad Alloush.
The Al Watan daily, which is close to the government, reported on Tuesday that the regime’s delegation “will be led by Syrian diplomat and permanent representative to the United Nations Bashar Al Jaafari.”
The Astana talks will aim to build on a nationwide truce in place since December 30 that was brokered by Ankara and Moscow.
Lavrov said “one of the goals of the Astana meeting is, first, reinforcing the ceasefire.”
But Al Watan on Tuesday reported that the government’s delegation would head to Astana in pursuit of a “political solution” to the war.
“No one thinks Damascus is going to Astana to discuss a halt to military operations, as some want to suggest, or to reinforce the so-called ceasefire,” the paper said.
“Damascus is attending in the framework of its vision for a comprehensive political solution to the war on Syria ... and to re-impose the hegemony and sovereignty of the state on all Syrian territory,” it wrote.
Lavrov said the talks would also serve as an opportunity to involve rebel field commanders in “the political process” to end bloodshed.
“Those who wish to join must have the possibility to do so.”
The Syrian government’s team will also include “figures representing the military and the Syrian judiciary, so that the delegation will represent the whole Syrian state,” the newspaper wrote.
Chief rebel negotiator Mohammad Alloush, a leading figure in the Jaish Al Islam (Army of Islam) faction, will represent the opposition, according to National Coalition member Ahmad Ramadan.
The opposition delegation will include around 20 people, Ramadan said.
Rebel groups announced on Monday that they would send a “military” delegation to Astana, as well as legal and political advisors from the High Negotiations Committee umbrella group.
Alloush and Al Jaafari headed opposing teams at UN-hosted peace talks in Geneva last year, trading accusations throughout the ill-fated negotiations.
Jaafari described his rival as a “terrorist,” while Alloush accused the regime of committing “massacres” in Syria.