ALEPPO PROVINCE, Syria/MOSCOW - Russia invited the leader of Syria's opposition on Friday to visit for the first time, but the opposition swiftly dismissed a renewed call by Moscow for talks with President Bashar Assad's government to end the 21-month civil war.
With the rebels advancing over the second half of 2012, diplomats have been searching for months for signs that Assad's main international backer, Moscow, will withdraw its protection.
So far Russia has stuck to its position that rebels must negotiate with Assad's government, which has ruled since his father seized power in a coup 42 years ago.
"I think a realistic and detailed assessment of the situation inside Syria will prompt reasonable opposition members to seek ways to start a political dialogue," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday.
That was immediately dismissed by the opposition National Coalition: "The coalition is ready for political talks with anyone ... but it will not negotiate with the Assad regime," spokesman Walid al-Bunni told Reuters. "Everything can happen after the Assad regime and all its foundations have gone. After that we can sit down with all Syrians to set out the future."