Moscow: After talks with Moscow`s top diplomat, Syria`s main opposition group insisted Friday that Russia is "not clinging" to President Bashar al-Assad.
The head of Syria`s National Coalition, Khaled Khoja, met Thursday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as part of a fresh push by Moscow to find a way out of the four-year civil war that has cost some 240,000 lives.
Moscow -- one of Assad`s few remaining backers -- is pushing a plan for a broader grouping than the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State (IS) group, to include Syria`s government and its allies.
But Khoja -- in Moscow for the National Coalition`s first talks there since February 2014 -- reiterated that Assad must go immediately and hinted that Russia`s support for the strongman may be wavering.
"We have found that the Russian authorities are not clinging to Bashar al-Assad personally, but rather they`re clinging to the Syrian state, its territorial integrity, and the preservation of its institutions," Khoja told journalists at a press conference.
A spokeswoman for Russia`s foreign ministry said in response that Moscow`s position remained unchanged.
"We have always said that we do not support Assad in a personal capacity but that we support the legitimately elected president of Syria," spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told AFP.
The ministry said in a statement that Russia was pushing the National Coalition -- Syria`s main opposition group in exile -- to talk to other parties in the fragmented opposition about the creation of a cohesive negotiating platform for talks with the authorities.
The meeting Thursday is part of a broader diplomatic flurry that saw Saudia Arabia`s foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir fly into Moscow on Tuesday, on the back of a three-way Russian-Saudi-US meeting in Doha earlier this month.
The top diplomat for Saudi Arabia, a key backer of the Syrian opposition, rejected calls to work with Assad against IS after a meeting with Lavrov.
As part of the push, Lavrov was also expected to meet on Friday with the head of a newer grouping of Syrian opposition figures known as the Cairo Conference Committee.
On Wednesday, Russia`s top Middle East envoy met in Moscow with Saleh Muslim, the head of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD).