Apr 24, 5:57 PM EDT

UN envoy on Syria warns that May talks are not negotiations; will meet parties 1 by 1



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UN envoy to start talks in May to try to relaunch negotiations aimed at ending Syrian conflict

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- A new series of talks on the Syrian war that begin next month in Geneva should not be seen as negotiations toward a peace deal, the U.N. special envoy on Syria warned the Security Council on Friday, while an Iranian diplomat indicated that his country would take part.

Diplomats said Staffan de Mistura told the council that he sees little new willingness from the parties involved to negotiate. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the closed-door meeting.

De Mistura intends to meet separately with a range of parties to see if they are ready to move on to talks toward finding an end to the conflict, which is now in its fifth year. He expects to report his findings to the U.N. chief by the end of June.

"This is not a Geneva III," de Mistura later told reporters, referring to previous negotiations on Syria that failed over disagreement on whether President Bashar Assad must go. He said he had been instructed by U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon to redouble efforts to find a political solution and seek out "even the remotest possibility" that positions had changed.

A spokesman for de Mistura said Iran, a key Syria ally, had been invited. De Mistura called Iran a "major player" in the region.

A diplomat with Iran's mission to the U.N. said his country would be happy to participate as long as there are no preconditions to the talks. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

While de Mistura said all parties in Syria were being invited to the new talks, he ruled out the Islamic State group, whose rise over the past year in parts of Syria has complicated the conflict.

"They are on the list of terrorists," he said, adding that he was sure the extremist group wouldn't want to participate anyway.

De Mistura, the third U.N. special envoy on Syria, has turned to this new approach after his previous idea for local cease-fires, starting in the city of Aleppo, had little success. He insisted Friday, though, that the idea is still on the table.

The current president of the Security Council, Jordanian Ambassador Dina Kawar, told reporters that council members support the envoy's efforts.

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