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French MPs meet Bashar al-Assad on ‘personal’ visit to Syria

media Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Reuters/SANA/Handout via Reuters

Four French parliamentarians met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday during a visit that they and the government insisted was a personal initiative. The four, from both the ruling Socialist Party and the opposition, say they will report back “to whom it may concern”.

“We met Bashar al-Assad for a good hour. It went very well,” Jacques Myard, an MP for the mainstream right UMP, told the AFP news agency. “We will report to whomever it may concern.”

The visit it is the first by French parliamentarians since Paris broke off diplomatic relations, along with the UK, Italy, Germany and Spain, in May 2012 as they backed the US in opposing Assad’s regime in its war with opposition forces.

Government spokesperson Stéphane Le Foll stressed that the visit was a “personal initiative” and that the four had no official message for the Syrian president.

Myard on Tuesday also said that the visit was personal “to see what is happening, hear and listen”.

The four parliamentarians – Myard, UMP Senator Jean-Pierre Vial, Socialist Gérard Bapt and centrist Senator François Zocchetto – are all members of the Franco-Syrian friendship group in their respective houses.

On Tuesday they met Syrian Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister Faisal Meqdad and were to meet the minister himself, Walid Mouallem, on Wednesday.

They also had dinner with the Grand Mufti, Ahmad Hassoun.

France and other Western countries have accused Assad's regime of human-rights abuses and supported opposition groups they consider "moderate" but have since become anxious to prevent their nationals joining Islamist militias, notably the Islamic State armed group.

Speaking to RFI, Myard predicted that the French government will be forced to resume contact with Assad.

"The situation is evolving very rapidly, especially in the Near East," he said. "In Syria you cannot play for regime change because it will explode the country. So we have to be very careful. In my view, it is necessary to maintain contact with this government, to resume what we have done in the past, to have an independant foreign policy. This is, in my view, a necessity for France."

The Syrians were "very bitter" about France's stance, he said.

"The global situation has changed because of al Qaeda, because of terrorist attacks. And if you want a solution to stop the civil war, you have to speak with the government, even if you do not like it. Of course, we did not solve anything, but I think that we've gathered a lot of information that will be interesting for our government and we'll see what they do with it."

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