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Kremlin backs down on demands to retain Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

In a surprising about face, the Russian Foreign Ministry has said that it is not crucial to retain President Bashar al-Assad's position in Syria, a reversal of its earlier intentions to preserve his presidency using military power. Russia's previous insistence on keeping Assad put the country at odds with the United States and its allies. In the announcement, reported by Reuters and Russia's RIA Novosti news agency, Russia said it would be inviting representatives from the Syrian government and opposition groups to Moscow for peace talks.

Last week, more than a dozen parties, including the United States and Russia, agreed to work toward establishing a nationwide cease-fire in Syria, with the eventual goal of holding internationally supervised free and fair elections. At the time, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the decision as to who would lead Syria would be left up to the Syrian people.