The Latest: Syrian government won't talk with opposition

The Latest on developments in Syria's conflict and he U.N.-sponsored talks in Geneva (all times local):

5 p.m.

The head of the Syrian government delegation at the U.N.-sponsored peace talks in Geneva says his team will not engage in any dialogue with the opposition as long as it insists on having President Bashar Assad's removal as its goal.

The comments by Bashar Ja'afari on Thursday came as the eighth round of Syrian talks in Geneva was wrapping up without any progress.

Ja'afari slammed the Syrian opposition for its so-called Riyadh communique, issued in Saudi Arabia before the Geneva talks, in which it stated that its ultimate goal was to see Assad step down at the start of a political process.

The Damascus official described the statement as "blackmail of the Geneva process." He also told reporters in Geneva that "those who drew up the Riyadh communique are the ones who sabotaged this round" of talks.


9:50 a.m.

The U.N. Syria envoy has called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to "have the courage" to push the Syrian government to accept new elections and a new constitution.

Staffan de Mistura also told a TV interviewer that the Russian leader should "convince the (Syrian) government that there is no time to lose."

Russia has provided crucial military and diplomatic backing to Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces.

De Mistura's comments late Wednesday to Swiss broadcaster RTS came near the end of the eighth round of intra-Syrian peace talks under his mediation since early 2016.

De Mistura also said it was "regrettable" Assad's delegation had refused to meet face-to-face with the opposition in what have been indirect talks in Geneva.

He re-emphasized the importance of a U.N. role in any peace process.