Syria opposition chief meets Russia's Lavrov in Munich
Moaz Alkhatib, president of the Syrian National Coalition, says he received a 'clear invitation' from the foreign minister to visit Moscow; Alkhatib also meant to meet with Joe Biden and Lakhdar Brahimi.
The head of the Syrian opposition Moaz Alkhatib told Reuters he had met Russia's foreign minister on Saturday on the sidelines of a conference in Munich and had been invited to visit Moscow.
Syrian Coalition officials said on Friday that Alkhatib was set to meet U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi at the conference on Saturday.
On Saturday, a diplomatic source told Reuters that Alkhatib will also meet Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi on the sidelines of the conference. "The talks about Syria are intensifying and the Iranians have been drawn in. Let's see how it all ends," the source said.
After his meeting with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Alkhatib, president of the Syrian National Coalition, said he had received a "clear invitation" from the foreign minister to visit Moscow, a breakthrough in relations that could help pave the way for a solution to the Syrian crisis.
"Russia has a certain vision but we welcome negotiations to alleviate the crisis and there are lots of details that need to be discussed," Alkhatib said after the talks.
Also on Saturday, Lavrov said that Syria's chemical weapons are safe in the regime's hands, and reiterated Moscow's support for Syrian President Bashar Assad's nearly two-year-old battle against opposition forces.
"The greatest danger is the possibility that the chemical weapons will fall into the rebels' hands," Lavrov said while attending the Munich Security Conference in Germany.
While the weapons remained under government control, "we are confident that there is no cause for serious concern," he said.
Lavrov also cautioned that "we should avoid a forceful intervention, especially without a mandate from the UN Security Council" and spoke out against "arbitrary sanctions" on Damascus.
On the sidelines of the international conference, Lavrov also met with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who on Saturday described Assad as a "tyrant" and that he must go.
Western powers have previously warned Assad that there would be an immediate reaction to any use of chemical weapons against the opposition, which have been fighting to oust the Syrian leader since March 2011. The UN estimates more than 60,000 people have been killed in the fighting.
Inside Syria, rebels claimed 40 people were killed across the country on Saturday, while activists said heavy clashes raged near a major military base in Mezze - a key supply link for the regime forces in the capital.
Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told dpa rebels and troops were also clashing near the Damascus suburb of Daraya. Daraya is now under rebel control, but Syrian forces have reportedly brought in tanks in an effort to reclaim it.
News from Syria cannot be verified because most journalists are still banned from entering restive areas across the country.