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Originally published Friday, March 1, 2013 at 2:00 AM

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Syrian opposition leader: US, Russia can end war

A leading Syrian opposition figure visiting Moscow said Friday that Russia and the United States could act as co-guarantors of a ceasefire in Syria.

The Associated Press

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MOSCOW —

A leading Syrian opposition figure visiting Moscow said Friday that Russia and the United States could act as co-guarantors of a ceasefire in Syria.

Manaf Tlass, a former elite army commander and close confidant of Syrian President Bashar Assad who defected last summer, told the state-run Voice of Russia radio station that Russia could help achieve peace in Syria by backing moderate opposition forces.

"In Syria there is a third party that doesn't support the regime or the extremists," Tlass said in response to Syrian government claims that Assad's fall would hand power to terrorists. "Most Syrians don't want to choose between these two extremes, they want to go about their lives in a stable and secure state. And Russia could support moderate forces in Syria."

Tlass, who held talks with senior Russian officials in Moscow, said he came as part of efforts to negotiate a peace settlement. He added that "Russia has enough political clout to help find a solution."

Tlass added that he hoped Russia could "preserve Syria as a state, its unity, its complex structure with its ethnic and religious minorities, its infrastructure, and its secular nature."

Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed a new-found willingness to listen to Western arguments for solving the crisis after meeting his French counterpart, Francois Hollande, on Thursday.

Throughout the two-year conflict, during which over 70,000 have died, Russia has shielded Assad's regime at the U.N. Security Council from sanctions. Moscow also has rejected calls for Assad to quit, saying his government and rebels should pursue talks.

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