UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura talks during a news conference in Rome, Italy February 15, 2017 (Photo: Reuters)
UN envoy Staffan de Mistura called Thursday for greater efforts in the push for peace in Syria, as he visited Moscow ahead of a fresh round of talks in Geneva.
De Mistura was in Russia for meetings with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu as the United Nations gears up to hold negotiations in Switzerland on February 23.
"Now is the right time to step up efforts to normalise the political process in Syria," de Mistura told Lavrov in comments translated into Russian by the state-run TASS news agency.
TASS reported that de Mistura said the UN "supports" Russian-led peace efforts in the Kazakh capital of Astana, where armed opposition groups and Syrian regime representatives are set to hold a second round of indirect talks on Thursday.
The talks in Kazakhstan -- co-sponsored by Turkey and Iran -- are being billed as a prelude to the Geneva meeting, with negotiations expected to focus on shoring up a shaky ceasefire on the ground.
Moscow has increasingly taken the lead on shaping Syria's future after its military intervention on the side of leader Bashar al-Assad helped turn the tables in the protracted conflict.
Russia says the Astana process is meant to support the Geneva talks, but there has been speculation that it is working with Ankara to develop an alternative to the UN-led initiative.