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Not crucial to keep Syrian President al-Assad in power, Russian spokesperson says

A government official has said Russia is not tied to saving Syria's Bashar al-Assad, according to a news report. The comment comes amid disagreement between world powers regarding the fate of the Syrian leader.

Russian news agency RIA quoted a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman as saying it was not necessary to keep Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power, a crucial statement as an end to the years-long conflict in Syria largely hinges on the fate of the embattled president.

In response to a reporter's question, the spokesperson said it was not a matter of principle to save Assad.

"We are not saying Assad should leave or stay," she clarified.

Russian intervention under fire

Russia is a close ally of Assad's regime, which has been waging a war against Western-backed rebel fighters seeking to topple the president.

In a move that was largely condemned by the international community, Moscow launched a military intervention in Syria in late September. Though officials have said the purpose was to destroy the terror group "Islamic State" (IS), the United States and other countries have said Russia is also targeting moderate rebel groups opposed to Assad.

Later, in October, Russian President Vladimir Putin

hosted Assad in Moscow

, in another move seen as an affront to Western and Middle Eastern powers determined to see the leader ousted.

No breakthroughs

Last week, top diplomats from around the world met in Vienna to discuss an end to the conflict. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier

said there had been no breakthrough

, but suggested the talks had been constructive.

On the matter of Assad, US Secretary of State John Kerry said he "agreed to disagree" with Russia and Iran. However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also said at a press conference afterward that he did not specify whether the leader had to go or stay.

Leaders are expected to meet to discuss Syria again in two weeks.

More than 250,000 people have died in Syria since the outbreak of war in 2011.

blc/jm (Reuters, AP)

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