U.N. envoy to Syria has first meeting with Assad


In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian President Bashar Assad, right, meets with the U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, left, in Damascus, Syria, on Sept. 15, 2012. (Anonymous/AP)
September 15, 2012

U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi held his first meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Saturday, a last-ditch attempt to find a political solution to the conflict as fighting raged in several cities around the country.

Brahimi, who has been blunt in his assessment of the difficulties of his task, told Assad that the solution could come only from the Syrian people, according to an account of the meeting published by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA).

For his part, Assad claimed that there would be no resolution of the conflict until the flow of cash and arms to “terrorists,” the common term used by the president for the rebel fighters, is stopped.

“The success of the political work is linked to pressing the countries which fund and train the terrorists, confiscate weapons into Syria to stop such acts,” Assad said, according to SANA.

Brahimi’s visit to Damascus comes a little over a month after Kofi Annan bitterly resigned from the post, blasting members of the U.N. Security Council and the Syrian government — which he characterized as “40 years of dictatorship” in an op-ed in the Financial Times — for their unwillingness to follow his peace plan.

That peace plan may still be used as a blueprint for Brahimi to follow, analysts say, but the level of violence has ramped up dramatically since Annan’s departure, with more than 100 Syrians dying each day, according to tallies by opposition groups, and both the government and the opposition showing little interest in genuine negotiations.

Brahimi’s mission will be further complicated by the lack of U.N. observers on the ground who could give him an accurate assessment of what’s happening on the battlefield. Citing the rising levels of violence, about 300 U.N. observers pulled out of the country in mid-August — a move analysts say may have sent a louder message about U.N. commitment to the country than the arrival of Brahimi.

Still, Brahimi has expressed his intention to do his best, and he met Friday with a handful of opposition figures tolerated by the government. “We will try to do our best to provide ideas and find what the situation needs to help the Syrian people get out of this disaster,” he said at a news conference after the meeting with Assad, according to SANA.

Brahimi also said that the conflict posed a “threat to Syria, the region and the entire world,” according to the Associated Press.

Also on Saturday, hundreds gathered outside the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, which has been closed since February, to protest a controversial anti-Islam video that has spurred protests around the world, according to SANA. Photographs of the protest published by SANA showed one man carrying a placard that read, “Obama you know now why we hate you.”

The Syrian military carried out attacks Saturday in Damascus, Hama and Aleppo, where a residential building was hit in an airstrike, according to the Local Coordination Committees, an opposition group. There was no confirmation of the number of people killed or wounded in that attack.

Ahmed Ramadan contributed to this report.

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