Syria will continue peace talks: Minister on rare EU visit

AFP , Thursday 21 Apr 2016

File photo of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. (Photo: Reuters)

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said Thursday that his government will continue with UN-mediated peace negotiations in Geneva until they "reach a solution", despite an opposition walk-out.

He was speaking in the Czech capital Prague during the first visit by a high-ranking Syrian official to an EU member since the beginning of the five-year conflict.

"I assure you once again that we shall respect the cessation of hostilities requested by the United Nations," Mekdad told reporters after talks with Czech counterpart Martin Tlapa and Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek.

"We shall send the humanitarian assistance to the people of Syria wherever they need it, and we shall continue with the discussions in Geneva until we reach a solution," added Mekdad, who got his doctorate in English literature from Charles University in Prague.

The Czech Republic is the only EU member to have kept open its embassy in Syria, where it now also represents the interests of other EU countries as well as the United States.

Established in 1955 by then-Communist Czechoslovakia -- which split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993 -- the embassy once mediated hefty weapons sales to Damascus, especially in the 1970s and 1980s.

That long history appears to have put President Bashar al-Assad's regime at ease in dealing with the Czechs.

"We've always said that a political solution should be the basis for solving the Syrian conflict," Tlapa told reporters.

"The current ceasefire is fragile but it works and it is in our interest that it be extended to all of Syria."

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