New U.S. envoy for Syria to travel to Russia, Saudi Arabia -source

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 26, 2015 6:05 PM

By Lesley Wroughton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States' new special envoy for Syria, Michael Ratney, will visit Moscow, Riyadh and Geneva later this week in an attempt to find a political solution to the four-year old Syrian conflict.

A senior State Department official said Ratney, who was named as the envoy on July 27, would travel to the three centers from Aug. 28 to Sept. 2.

"Special Envoy Ratney will meet August 28 in Moscow with senior Russian officials and August 29 in Riyadh with senior Saudi officials, to continue discussions about working towards a genuine political transition and bringing an end to the devastating crisis in Syria," said the official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the plans.

In Geneva, he will meet with the United Nation's special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura.

The Obama administration has long insisted that a political solution in Syria must include the exit of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Moscow and Tehran.

The United States has welcomed initiatives by Russia and the United Nations to convene new talks, although Washington insists that it must be done under the so-called Geneva framework, which proposes a transitional governing body in Syria.

Attempts last year to revive the U.N.-backed Geneva process between the Western-backed Syrian opposition and a government delegation failed after the sides disagreed over Assad's exit.

The United States has been training and equipping Syrian opposition fighters trying to topple Assad, while a U.S-led coalition has bombed Islamic State militants in Syria.

In an interview with al-Manar TV that was broadcast on Tuesday, Assad said he was open to an idea of a coalition against Islamic State but indicated there was little chance of it happening with his enemies, referring to Turkey and Saudi Arabia which have backed insurgent groups fighting him.

Assad's comments cast further doubt on a Russian plan to forge an alliance against the Islamic State. Saudi Arabia has ruled out any coalition with Assad, and like the United States, wants to see Assad out of power.

At the State Department, spokesman John Kirby insisted, "There is not going to be a military solution to this. It's got to be done politically."

He said Ratney's tour was part of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts to "explore options with the Russians and with Saudi Arabia."

Kirby said the United States had long expressed concern over Moscow's support for Assad, and added, "His brutality, his loss of legitimacy to govern has only allowed ISIL to fester inside the country." The Islamic State group is also known as ISIL.

(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Bernard Orr, Toni Reinhold)