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UN special envoy meets Arab League chief for talks over Syria’s readmission

Geir Pedersen, the United Nations' new special envoy for Syria, gestures while speaking to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, back to a camera, during their talks in Moscow, Russia, Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (AP)
The new UN special envoy for Syria held talks on Sunday with the head of the Arab League, whose members appear divided about whether to readmit the war-torn country.

The League, which will hold its annual summit in Tunisia in March, suspended Syria’s membership in November 2011 as the death toll in the country’s civil war mounted.

Norwegian diplomat Geir Pedersen, who this month become the fourth UN negotiator aiming to resolve the nearly eight-year conflict, met with Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit in Cairo on Sunday, the organization said.

They discussed the latest talks among Arab states about the organization’s decisions on Syria since 2011, the League said in a statement.

Aboul Gheit also pointed to the importance of “reaching a peaceful solution” to the Syrian crisis, it said. Pedersen was also scheduled to meet with Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.

Several Arab states including Lebanon and Tunisia have recently called for Syria’s return to the Arab League.

In December, Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir made the first visit by any Arab leader to the Syrian capital since 2011, and the UAE reopened its embassy in Damascus.

In another sign of a diplomatic thaw, the speaker of Jordan’s Parliament invited his Syrian counterpart to meetings of the Arab Parliamentary Union in Amman in March, Jordanian state news agency Petra reported Sunday. But not all of the League’s members support closer ties with Damascus.

Qatar, which has backed opposition in Syria’s civil war, said this month that Damascus under President Bashar Assad should not be allowed back into the Arab League.

Pedersen stressed the need for a UN-brokered political solution to the war when he visited Damascus after assuming his duties this month following the resignation of his predecessor Staffan de Mistura.