Dec 14, 8:20 AM EST

UN Syria envoy urges Putin to have 'courage' to push Assad


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GENEVA (AP) -- The U.N. Syria envoy has called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to "have the courage" to push the Syrian government to accept new elections and a new constitution.

In an unusual public appeal directly to a key power broker in the region, Staffan de Mistura told a TV interviewer the Russian leader should "convince the (Syrian) government that there is no time to lose" in efforts to reach peace in Syria after nearly seven years of war.

Russia has provided crucial military and diplomatic backing to Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces, though Putin announced a drawdown of Russian military forces in Syria this week. He made the announcement during a visit to a Russian military base in Syria in the wake of battlefield successes.

Asked what signal Putin could provide now, de Mistura said territorial gains are "temporary. But the peace must be won - and for the peace to be won, it's necessary to have the courage to push the government also to accept that there must be a new constitution and new elections."

The comments late Wednesday to Swiss broadcaster RTS came near the end of the eighth round of Syrian peace talks under his mediation since early 2016. Participants said talks were set to wrap up Thursday, and de Mistura signalled frustration at the lack of progress. The previous rounds of talks also made little if any progress.

The head of the Syrian government delegation, Bashar al-Ja'afari, arrived Thursday afternoon. He has not addressed reporters since the government envoys returned to Geneva after a pause this week.

In the interview, de Mistura said it was "regrettable" that Assad's delegation had refused to meet face-to-face with the opposition. At the start of the latest round, the delegations at one point sat just meters (yards) away from one another in separate rooms.

With Russia pushing a separate peace-talks track, de Mistura emphasized the importance of a U.N. role in any peace process.

Hinting at his repeated concerns about a de facto partition of Syria, the U.N. envoy held up a color-coded map showing the divisions of territorial control. The war is estimated to have killed at least 400,000 people and driven over 12 million from their homes.

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