MOSCOW, March 11 (RIA Novosti) – Russia should cut arms supplies to Damascus in order to pressure Syrian President Bashar al-Assad into negotiations with the opposition, members of Syrian moderate opposition said on Monday.
“Russia has plenty of potential trump cards for negotiations that haven’t been played yet,” Raja al-Nasser, secretary-general of the Syrian National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change (NCC), said at a press conference in Moscow.
Along with cutting arms supplies, means of influencing Assad’s regime include vetoing or approving “important international decisions,” Nasser said, when asked by RIA Novosti to elaborate.
Moscow has admitted to supplying Assad’s forces with weapons and doing maintenance work for their military equipment, though claimed it did so under contracts made before unrest broke out in Syria in March 2011. Russia has also blocked several anti-Assad resolutions in the UN Security Council, saying they were biased in favor of the Syrian opposition.
Members of the NCC met on Monday with several Russian diplomats, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, to discuss Russian arms supplies to Syria and the lineup of Syrian political forces expected to participate in potential negotiations, senior NCC member Haytham Manna said at the press conference.
Lavrov supported NCC's call for broad dialogue without preconditions on Syria and urged the group to draft practical measures to facilitate such dialogue, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that did not mention arms supplies to Assad.
NCC representatives will hold talks this week with US diplomats and the UN Envoy on Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, Manna said without elaborating.
The NCC is one of the few opposition organizations not to join the Syrian National Coalition, which claims to represent no less than 80 percent of all anti-regime groups and campaigns for Assad’s ouster by force.
Since its inception in 2011, the NCC has advocated ending the conflict through a peace settlement and negotiations, including with Assad. This has fueled unconfirmed allegations that the group – comprised mostly of leftist secular parties that have been in opposition to official Damascus since the 1980s – is a stooge of the regime.
Syrian National Coalition’s head Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib said in January that the coalition is ready to consider negotiations with Assad. Meanwhile, the United States, which has supported Syrian opposition since the start of the conflict, has also diversified its approach, blacklisting in December the powerful fundamentalist anti-regime group Al-Nusra Front as a terrorist organization.
More than 70,000 people have been killed since the outbreak of hostilities in Syria, according to the latest UN estimates. About 1 million Syrians were displaced by the fighting, with the figure expected to triple over 2013, the United Nations said in March.