Jan 26, 3:19 AM EST

Syrian president dismisses talks with 'puppets' in interview

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BEIRUT (AP) -- Syrian President Bashar Assad has dismissed negotiations with "puppets" in an interview with a U.S. magazine ahead of talks set to begin in Moscow.

In the Foreign Affairs interview, published online Monday, Assad questioned if any dialogue with Syria's Western-backed opposition figures would be fruitful, saying that even armed groups don't see them as true representatives.

Assad described the figures as "puppets" that were "paid from the outside."

Four days of negotiations brokered by Russia are set to begin Monday in Moscow. The main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, has said it won't attend, though some opposition representatives are expected to participate.

Syria's civil war began as popular protests against Assad's rule some four years ago. The conflict has now killed over 220,000 people.

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