Russia to propose Syrians launch 18-month reform process

Russia wants the Syrian government and opposition to agree on launching a constitutional reform process of up to 18 months, followed by early presidential elections, a draft document obtained by Reuters showed on November 10.

The eight-point proposal, drawn up by Moscow before international talks on Syria this week, does not rule out President Bashar al-Assad's participation in the elections - something his foes say is impossible if there is to be peace.

"(The) popularly elected president of Syria will have the functions of commander-in-chief of the armed forces, control of special services and foreign policy," the document said.

A Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman denied that any document was being prepared by Russia for the international meeting on Syria this week in Vienna. "This information does not correspond to reality," said the spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova.

The document said the Syrian sides should agree on such steps at a future conference to be organised by the United Nations and added that the reform process would not be chaired by Assad, but by a candidate agreed by all sides.

Russia and Iran have been Assad's top allies during Syria's nearly five-year war. The United States, its Gulf allies and Turkey have said he must leave power for there to be peace.

Moscow has stepped up its diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions. At a first round of talks in Vienna late last month, it said it wanted opposition groups to participate in future discussions and exchanged a list of names with Saudi Arabia.

Western diplomats said it would be difficult for countries opposed to Assad to agree on the draft Russian proposal.