Four French MPs meet Assad in Syria
DAMASCUS - Four French lawmakers met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Wednesday during a private trip to the war-torn country, despite a breakdown in diplomatic ties between Paris and Damascus.
"We met Bashar al-Assad for a good hour. It went very well," Jacques Myard, an MP from the conservative opposition UMP party, said in a telephone interview. He refused to reveal the content of the talks.
The French government, which supports the moderate Syrian opposition and wants Assad to leave power, quickly denied that the lawmakers were there in an official capacity.
Government spokesman Stephane Le Foll stressed it was "in no way an official French initiative" and the foreign ministry said earlier that the lawmakers did not carry any "official message."
Myard said the trip was "a personal mission to see what is going on, to hear, listen."
The four MPs and senators, who hail from both the left and the right, belong to France-Syria parliamentary friendship groups. One of the MPs is a member of President Francois Hollande's ruling Socialists.
France severed diplomatic ties with Syria in 2012, along with Britain, Italy, Germany and Spain, as what started as a pro-democracy protest seeking Assad's ouster in March 2011 morphed into a full-blown war.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, the conflict has left more than 200,000 people dead.
A Syrian governmental source said the lawmakers were also due to meet Foreign Minister Walid Muallem on Wednesday.
Paris supports the moderate Syrian opposition both politically and militarily, and wants to try and resolve the crisis through negotiations between members of this opposition and the Syrian regime -- but without Assad.