Syrian defence minister in Moscow ahead of Geneva talks: agencies

A picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on July 19, 2012, shows defence minister Fahed Jassem al-Freij (R) meeting with President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus (AFP Photo/)

Moscow (AFP) - Syrian defence minister Fahed Jassem al-Freij on Thursday met his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu in Moscow ahead of Syria peace talks due to start Friday in Geneva.

"The results of the operation of the Russian air force in Syria, aimed at the destruction of terrorist groups, were discussed," Russian news agencies quoted the defence ministry as saying.

"The meeting was held in a friendly atmosphere and confirmed the mutual intention to further expand comprehensive cooperation between the defence ministries," they added.

The meeting comes as Syrian opposition members met for a third day Thursday to decide whether to attend UN peace talks, with less than 24 hours before the negotiations were due to begin in Geneva.

Opposition sources said it appeared increasingly unlikely the talks would open in the Swiss city on Friday as planned.

Shoigu on Thursday also separately met the Jordanian army's joint chief of staff, General Mohammed al-Zaben Meshaal, to discuss the countries' bilateral military cooperation, Russian news agencies reported.

Russia is currently conducting a bombing campaign in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad, while the US is leading a separate coalition targeting Islamic State jihadists.

Moscow has staunchly supported Assad's beleaguered regime and said that his removal could not be a prerequisite for a deal to end the conflict, which has left more than 260,000 people dead and millions displaced.

The West has accused Russia -- whose jets carried out more than 5,000 combat sorties in Syria last year -- of mainly targeting moderate rebels fighting the Assad regime as well as inflicting civilian casualties.

The Russian foreign ministry said Thursday it wanted to hold an international meeting on Syria, which would include key players from the West and the Middle East, in Munich next month.

Some 17 nations -- including the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran -- have held several rounds of talks last year in the broadest international push to end the conflict in Syria.