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Syria envoy warns conflict a threat to world peace

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[September 15, 2012]  DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- The new international envoy tasked with ending Syria's civil war said Saturday he still had no clear idea on how to proceed, but that it was "terribly important" to end a conflict that he warned was now a threat to regional and world peace.

Lakhdar Brahimi's bleak comments followed his first meeting with President Bashar Assad since taking up the job he himself has called "nearly impossible."

Brahimi replaced former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan who left the job in frustration in August after his efforts failed to stem a conflict that started in March 2011 with an uprising to topple Assad.

Speaking to reporters at a news conference in Damascus Saturday, Brahimi said the crisis in Syria is "very dangerous," and the gap between the political parties widening.

"I repeat that I currently don't have a plan. We will build a working plan after listening to all internal, regional and international parties, hoping this plan would open the way for the salvation of Syria," Brahimi said.

The veteran Algerian diplomat's three-day visit to Syria that began Thursday has involved meetings with both officials and opposition leaders. He says the goal is to help him plan his initiative to end the crisis.

Assad reiterated his country's "full commitment" to cooperate with any efforts to end the crisis in Syria as long as those efforts are "neutral and independent," according to the state-run news agency SANA. He said any efforts would need to focus on pressuring countries that "finance and train terrorists and smuggle weapons into Syria to halt such acts."

Syrian authorities blame the uprising on a foreign conspiracy and accuse Gulf countries Saudi Arabia and Qatar, along with the U.S, other Western countries, and Turkey, of offering funding and training to the rebels, whom they describe as "terrorists."

The Syrian president also said his government was "serious" in its call for a dialogue among all Syrians -- a call that has been repeatedly rejected by the opposition, which is adamant that any dialogue should be restricted to talks on Assad stepping down.

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Brahimi's trip comes amid continued violence in the country's largest city, Aleppo, and the outskirts of the capital, Damascus. Activists said regime forces shelled Aleppo and clashed with rebels outside Damascus.

The violence has left the Assad government isolated internationally, although Iran, China and Russia support it.

"It's a very, very serious and dangerous crisis. It's terribly important and urgent to address it in a proper manner," Brahimi said.

He said the conflict, which according to activists has killed around 23,000 people, posed a "threat to Syria, the region and the entire world." He did not elaborate.

He said he would head to New York to continue consultations, adding that he would also visit all countries that are concerned with the situation in Syria.

Brahimi acknowledged the difficulty of the mission and said he was not looking for any quick success. "I have undertaken (the job) because I am very hopeful that I will aim to help, however little, the people of Syria," he said.

"The gap between the parties is very wide," he said, but added, "The common ground does exist as the Syrians love their country. They want peace in their country and perhaps we can help them achieve that."

[Associated Press; By ALBERT AJI]

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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