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Russian diplomat plays down report of Syria talks

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 1 Feb 2013 13:00 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Syrian source says four-way Syria talks set for Munich

* Russian diplomat says meeting not on Lavrov's agenda

* Meeting would be first between Lavrov and Alkhatib (Adds quotes, context)

MOSCOW, Feb 1 (Reuters) - A senior Russian diplomat played down reports that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would hold joint talks on Saturday with a Syrian opposition leader and U.S. and United Nations officials in Munich on Saturday.

Syrian opposition sources said on Friday that Syrian National Coalition President Moaz Alkhatib would meet Lavrov, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in the German city, which is hosting a security conference.

"As it stands today, there is no such meeting mentioned in the programme of the Russian Foreign Minister," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said on Twitter.

"Media reports of a meeting in Munich in the format of Lavrov-Biden-Brahimi and Syrian opposition representative Alkhatib do not correspond with reality," he said.

Such a meeting, if it took place, would be the first between Lavrov and Alkhatib, who in December rejected a Russian invitation to come to Moscow for talks and called on Lavrov to apologise for what he said was Russia's intervention in Syria.

Alkhatib survived a challenge to his authority after saying he would be willing to talk to Syrian officials without President Bashar al-Assad stepping down first.

Russia says Assad's exit from power must not be a precondition for a negotiated settlement of the 22-month-old conflict that has killed more than 60,000 people.

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Steve Gutterman and Timothy Heritage)

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