A picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (R) speaking with Italian United Nations envoy on the Syrian crisis, Staffan de Mistura, after a meeting in Damascus on September 11, 2014
A picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (R) speaking with Italian United Nations envoy on the Syrian crisis, Staffan de Mistura, after a meeting in Damascus on September 11, 2014 © - SANA/AFP/File
A picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (R) speaking with Italian United Nations envoy on the Syrian crisis, Staffan de Mistura, after a meeting in Damascus on September 11, 2014
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AFP
Last updated: September 24, 2014

Fight against Syria jihadists game changer, says UN envoy

The UN envoy for Syria on Tuesday called the fight against jihadists in Syria a game changer, and said US air strikes could even help ease humanitarian needs.

"In order to move at the moment there is obviously a game changer and the game changer is Daesh and the fight against Daesh," Staffan de Mistura told reporters at UN headquarters, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.

He said the current period was "delicate" and "dangerous" but that the priority was to care for the 11 million Syrians desperately in need of aid despite the welter of crises facing the world.

Asked if US air strikes would exacerbate the situation on the ground, de Mistura said he had no indication so far that the air campaign was affecting humanitarian assistance.

"On the contrary, I think that if there was any kind of reduction of the pressure by Daesh on the local population, we'll have less, a little bit, moving across (the border) and therefore less of an urgent need of humanitarian assistance."

De Mistura also spoke with some confidence about a forthcoming visit to Iran, a key stakeholder in the region and ally of the regime in Damascus.

"I think that Iran is an important player, and I hope an important partner in what should be a political process," he said.

De Mistura, who was appointed envoy in July, recently returned to New York from talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the opposition leadership.

He conceded there were "no grand projects at the moment" but said he had three main priorities: reducing the level of violence, increasing aid access and promoting a political process.

"Fighting terrorism needs to be accompanied with a genuine process, a pollical process including all Syrians," he said.

The US ambassador to the United Nations told the world body earlier Tuesday that Washington had carried out air strikes in Syria because Damascus had failed to clamp down on militant havens.

In a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Samantha Power explained why the United States had launched air strikes overnight.

"The Syrian regime has shown that it cannot and will not confront these safe-havens effectively itself," said a copy of the letter seen by AFP.

"Accordingly, the United States has initiated necessary and proportionate military actions in Syria in order to eliminate the ongoing ISIL threat to Iraq," Power added in the letter.

She said the United States had acted under Article 51 of the UN charter, which justifies action when the government of the state where the threat is located is unwilling or unable to prevent the use of its territory for attacks.

She said the United States had initiated military action against Al-Qaeda elements in Syria "to address terrorist threats that they pose to the United States and our partners and allies."

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