Syrian government seeks talks with unified national opposition: Chief negotiator

His rival, Syrian government negotiator Bashar al-Ja'afari, left the talks without commenting.

"It was the first time we discussed in acceptable depth the future of Syria and the future of political transition in Syria", he continued.

Ja'afari said the opposition High Negotiations Committee was holding the peace talks hostage, and accused some of its members of "high treason" by receiving support from Saudi Arabia, Israel and Turkey.

'We are not challenging the negotiation process on Syria in Astana and the fourth round of talks in Geneva that finally began, ' Riabkov answered to a question by the news agency Prensa Latina.

As the text was still being finalized, the opposition met de Mistura to ensure the process would focus squarely on "political transition", Western diplomats said.

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The Russian envoy pointed that the opposition hasn't yet fully distanced itself from terror groups like Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and Jabhat al-Nusra who were not part of talks.

Speaking to reporters after another long day of meetings, the envoy called the round of talks "substantive" and said the parties had agreed to return later in March to discuss four points - governance, constitution, elections and counter-terrorism.

The rebels even agreed to "provisionally" accept the 12 principles the United Nations laid out for the peace process, laid out as a result of indirect negotiations with the United Nations mediator Staffan de Mistura.

The opposition says that "political transition" means an end to almost 50 years of Assad family rule, something the government has ruled out giving away through negotiation.

A Western diplomat said agreement was near but it was the "final sprint and it can still derail".

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The opposition's Moscow Platform political grouping reported he had given it a copy of the one-page document. "It just needs an accelerator". But the scope of these negotiations was at least narrower than a year ago when he was also coping with demands for a ceasefire and a prisoner release.

As well as incremental trust, the upkeep of a ceasefire brokered by Russian Federation and Turkey last December and improved humanitarian access in the war-torn country are seen as key factors if future talks are to avoid an early breakdown.

The Astana meetings would deal with "maintenance of the ceasefire, immediate confidence-building measures and operational counter-terrorism issues", the United Nations mediator told a reporters.

One breakthrough, Monzer noted, was an "ice-breaker" meeting late Thursday with the largest opposition delegation at the talks.

De Mistura said the government delegation put forward a suggestion on exchanging prisoners and abducted people, which should be taken up in Astana.

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