Damascus: Russia on Wednesday denied talking with Washington about offering exile to Syria's president, as the chief UN observer said world powers are talking too much and not doing enough to end the Syrian conflict.

Ahead of a Paris meeting of the so-called "Friends of Syria," which supports President Bashar al-Assad's ouster, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 70 more people were killed in violence across the country.

Moscow denied holding talks with Washington about offering Assad exile as a way out of 16 months of bloodshed, which the Britain based Observatory says has claimed more than 16,500 lives.

"The situation with the future of Assad is not being discussed with the United States," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Russia's Interfax news agency.

Earlier, Moscow's Kommersant daily had quoted a Russian diplomat as saying Western nations led by the United States were making "active attempts" to persuade Moscow to offer a home to Assad.

But the report said Moscow objected to the idea, and Ryabkov stressed that Russia rejected a foreign solution to the brutal fighting now tearing apart its closest remaining Middle East ally.

The divide was further underscored on Wednesday when a general became the 15th such high-ranking officer to defect, crossing into Turkey with two colonels, as well as soldiers and their families, a Turkish diplomat said.

Russia has indicated it will stay away from the Paris meeting on Friday after accusing the West of seeking to distort a deal struck last weekend for a political transition in the violence hit nation.

Moscow's move to shun the gathering comes after UN Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan stressed that a ceasefire was imperative.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has hailed the Geneva accord based on proposals by Annan as an "important step" but argued that Western capitals had read more into the final statement than what was written on paper.

World powers agreed a transition plan that did not make an explicit call for Assad to quit power, but the West swiftly made clear it saw no role for him in a unity government.

"These (Geneva) agreements are not there to be interpreted," Lavrov said.

China, meanwhile, said its position on plans for a transition of power in Syria remained firm, and that Beijing wanted the "spirit" of the Geneva agreement to be followed.

Foreign ministry spokesman Liu Weimin was non-committal over whether China would attend the Paris meeting, the third such gathering after one in Tunis in February and another in April in Istanbul.


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