Syria will take part in UN preliminary peace talks: FM

AFP , Friday 2 Oct 2015

Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Muallem leaves the podium after addressing the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters, Friday, Oct. 2, 2015 (Photo: AP)

Syria will take part in UN talks aimed at launching formal negotiations on ending its four-year war but will not be bound by their outcome, Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said Friday.

Muallem told the UN General Assembly that he understood the talks, proposed by UN envoy Staffan de Mistura, to be "mainly to exchange ideas" and non-binding.

"I would like to announce here that Syria agrees to participate in the four brainstorming committees of experts proposed by the special envoy Staffan de Mistura," said Muallem.

De Mistura traveled to Syria last month to win President Bashar al-Assad's support for the new plan, the latest bid by the United Nations to lay the groundwork for peace after two failed attempts.

The four working groups will tackle safety and protection, political and legal affairs, the military and counter-terrorism, and reconstruction.

The foreign minister made clear that fighting the Islamic State group was the government's immediate focus and declared that the "Syrian army is capable of cleansing the country of those terrorists."

"Syria cannot implement any democratic political measures related to elections, a constitution or the like, while terrorism is striking at home," he said.

Muallem addressed the 193-nation assembly as Russian warplanes carried out a third day of air strikes in Syria, this time targeting the IS bastion of Raqa.

Russia and the United States have clashed over how to address the crisis in Syria with Moscow insisting that al-Assad's army must take part in the military campaign to defeat IS jihadists.

Washington is calling for Assad to step down and hold him responsible for the majority of the 240,000 deaths from the war.

More than four million people have fled the Syrian conflict, with many thousands heading to Europe, which is now facing its worst migrant crisis since World War II.

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