Beirut (AFP) - Syria's exiled opposition announced Saturday that it had declined an invitation from Russia to attend peace talks in Moscow with representatives of President Bashar al-Assad's government.
A Russian foreign ministry spokesman told AFP this week Syrian government and opposition representatives would meet for peace talks in Moscow on April 6.
But the exiled Syrian National Coalition said it had discussed the invitation during a meeting of its members in Istanbul and "decided not to take part in the Moscow 2" talks.
Despite this, a coalition source told AFP the invitation was in itself "a major development" because it indicated that key Assad ally Russia "recognises the Coalition".
"There is no reason to attend the meeting in Moscow, especially when we see attempts on the part of the regime's allies, including Russia and Iran, to place Assad centre-stage again," Anas al-Abdo told AFP, reiterating rejection of "any political transition that would include Assad".
The National Coalition is the key political representative of Syria's opposition and is officially recognised by much of the international community.
It has participated in several rounds of failed peace talks, including two in Geneva, and insists that Assad must step down.
In January, Russia hosted talks aimed at finding a solution to the four-year-old conflict in Syria that was not attended by the National Coalition.
A domestic opposition group tolerated by Assad's government did take part, however, alongside an official Syrian delegation, but the discussions ended with no concrete results.
Earlier this month Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said members of the National Coalition were "considering coming to Moscow" for the next meeting.
But Abdo on Saturday expressed concern at what he saw as an attempt to override what was said in Geneva.
He said the Coalition had decided to boycott the Moscow talks because of "the lack of a clear agenda, the absence a clear point of reference for anything that might be decided and the Coalition's refusal to engage in dialogue with the regime if this is not part of a transition process".
More than 215,000 people have been killed since the conflict began, nearly a third of them civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.