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Published: Thursday January 23, 2014 MYT 1:10:01 AM
Updated: Thursday January 23, 2014 MYT 1:10:52 AM

Russia's Lavrov says Syrian rivals vowed to hold direct talks

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends the opening of the Geneva-2 peace conference in Montreux January 22, 2014. REUTERS/Jamal Saidi

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends the opening of the Geneva-2 peace conference in Montreux January 22, 2014. REUTERS/Jamal Saidi

MONTREUX, Switzerland (Reuters) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after international talks in Switzerland on Wednesday that the rival Syrian delegations said they would sit down for direct talks on Friday and that they should start with confidence-building measures.

Lavrov, who said he held talks with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem and Syrian opposition leader Ahmed Jarba on Wednesday, urged the opposition and its foreign backers not to focus exclusively on leadership change in Damascus.

At the talks, Jarba demanded the Syrian government delegation sign up to an international plan for handing over power. Moualem insisted President Bashar al-Assad would not bow to outside demands.

"As for guarantees that the talks will not collapse - it is necessary to influence both delegations so that this does not happen," Lavrov said.

"The main thing is to start the process," he said, adding their talks were expected to take about a week before a pause and a second round.

Lavrov said the United Nations, Moscow and Washington were seeking to agree on a prisoner swap in Syria and exchanging lists of people it could potentially include.

He signalled progress in talks over a possible ceasefire in the northern city of Aleppo - after a Syrian government proposal in Moscow - and said similar discussions were going on about the central city of Homs, but gave no details.

"The relatively less difficult issues are confidence-building measures, humanitarian aid, prisoner swaps and, through this, some sort of relations between the two delegations should be created," he said.

Lavrov said the so-called Geneva 2 conference in Montreux went as expected and hailed as a breakthrough the first time the Syrian government and opposition delegations sat at one table ahead of first direct talks in nearly three years of conflict.

Speaking to journalists before he left Switzerland for Moscow, Lavrov said Russia would go on seeking to engage Iran in international talks on Syria and that domestic opposition groups - including Kurdish groups and the National Coordination Committee - should also take part.

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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