Beirut and Moscow, Asharq Al-Awsat—Russia could accept a role for the main anti-Assad rebel group the Free Syrian Army (FSA) as part of efforts to fight extremist groups in Syria, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Saturday following meetings in Vienna on the Syrian crisis with his Saudi, American, and Turkish counterparts.
Lavrov said Russia could support a role for “moderate” fighting groups such as the FSA to fight against extremist groups in Syria such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which Moscow announced earlier this month it was targeting in its airstrike campaign in the war-torn country.
This follows a proposal put forward by Lavrov on Friday to freeze fighting between the pro-regime Syrian army and the FSA and hold early elections to determine a transitional government.
Meanwhile, Lebanese sources close to the Syrian regime on Saturday told Asharq Al-Awsat Russian lawmakers discussed the role of the FSA with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad during his visit to Moscow last week, the first known trip he has made outside Syria since the conflict began in 2011.
The role of Assad in any transition in Syria remains a sticking point in the Vienna talks, which are due to resume on Friday.
The US, its Western allies, and the main Syrian opposition group the Syrian National Coalition insist that Assad should play no role in a political transition in Syria. Russia and Assad’s other main ally Iran are pushing for him to remain in power.
Turkish officials told Asharq Al-Awsat Friday’s talks were “general” and Russia’s plan did not touch on details regarding how the political transition in Syria would take place.
The officials, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, said Syrian opposition groups, many of whom are currently present in Turkey, would “not accept any positive role for Assad” in the proposed transition.
They added that despite some outward signs of flexibility by Russia on the Assad issue, it was clear during the Vienna meetings that Moscow is still pushing for a future role for the Syrian president.
The Lebanese sources meanwhile added that initiatives to support the Syrian army were also discussed during his meetings in Moscow, and that Iran has transferred funds to the Syrian government to boost Syrian troops’ monthly wages “up to 150 dollars per week.”