New UN Syria envoy to meet Assad on first visit

AFP , Wednesday 10 Sep 2014

United Nations Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura (L) gestures as he arrives at a hotel in Damascus September 9, 2014 (Photo: Reuters)

Staffan de Mistura, on his first Damascus visit as the new UN envoy on the Syrian conflict, is to hold talks with President Bashar al-Assad on Thursday, a newspaper close to the regime said.

Al-Watan said de Mistura, who arrived on Tuesday, was sounding out officials in Damascus on the prospects for a political settlement to the more than three-year-old conflict.

On Wednesday, the former Italian deputy foreign minister was holding talks with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem.

De Mistura, who is accompanied by his deputy Ramzy Ezzedine Ramzy, is also to meet with members of Syria's domestic opposition before winding up his visit on Thursday.

Unlike his predecessor Lakhdar Brahimi who was also mandated by the Arab League, de Mistura is representing only the United Nations.

Brahimi resigned in May after the failure of Geneva peace talks between the government and the exiled opposition in January and February.

He had spent two years in the post, which he assumed after former UN secretary general Kofi Annan stepped down following a six-month stint.

De Mistura, who has served previously in Iraq and Afghanistan, was appointed in July.

The United Nations said Monday that de Mistura would follow up his visit to Syria with other stops for talks with key players in the conflict.

Details of his travel plans were not released but it was expected that he would travel to Russia, Assad's key ally.

More than 191,000 people have been killed in Syria since March 2011, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

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