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Ready to discuss Assad exit, says Syria's dy PM

world Updated: Aug 22, 2012 23:21 IST

Syria has said it is ready to discuss the departure of President Bashar al-Assad as part of a negotiated settlement to the increasingly ferocious conflict but the US has reacted with scepticism.

The surprise comments Tuesday by Syria's deputy prime minister visiting Moscow emerged after Russia bluntly told the West not to meddle in Syria in the wake of US President Barack Obama's warning to Damascus over its chemical weapons arsenal.

"As far as his resignation goes — making the resignation itself a condition for holding dialogue means that you will never be able to reach this dialogue," Syrian deputy PM Qadri Jamil said after talks in Moscow.

But he added: "Any problems can be discussed during negotiations. We are even ready to discuss this issue."

According to political sources in Damascus, Jamil was sent to Moscow to discuss a possible plan for a presidential election in Syria in which all candidates would be allowed to stand, including Assad.

The exiled opposition umbrella group the Syrian National Council said it was studying the formation of a transitional government, but did not elaborate on whether it could include regime figures.

And the United States reacted with scepticism.

"We saw the reports of the press conference that the deputy prime minister gave. Frankly, we didn't see anything terribly new there," state department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

"We still believe that the faster Assad goes, the more chance there is to quickly move on to the day after," she added.

In Syria, at least 198 people were killed nationwide on Tuesday, a watchdog said, reporting relentless shelling and fighting across swathes of the main battleground of Aleppo and many deaths in a bloody raid on a Damascus suburb.