ABU DHABI - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged President Bashar al-Assad to seek a political solution to Syria's war, saying this would help international efforts against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, al-Hayat newspaper reported on Wednesday.
In an interview with the pan-Arab daily, Ban said years of war between Assad's forces and armed rebel groups had allowed militants such as Islamic State to take root in the region.
Asked whether Assad would have any role to play in an international coalition being assembled to fight Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, the UN chief said Assad could contribute by working politically towards an end to the war in his country.
"He (Assad) can play a role through ending the crisis as soon as possible and engaging in political dialogue," the London-based, Saudi-owned newspaper quoted him as saying.
Islamic State, a militarily-powerful al Qaeda offshoot that wants to create a jihadist hub in the heart of the Arab world, has made rapid territorial gains in both Iraq and Syria in recent months that have alarmed regional and Western powers.
In July, when Assad was sworn in for a new term as president, he vowed to recover all Syria from Islamist insurgents and dismissed the Syrian opposition abroad as traitors. But he also said he would be willing to work with the country's internal opposition, without giving details.
The United States has carried out weeks of air strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq, but the outlook for US air raids in Syria is much less clear.
While Iraq's government welcomed the role of US warplanes to attack the militants, Assad has warned that any strikes conducted without his country's permission would be considered an act of aggression, potentially plunging any US-led coalition into a broader conflict with Syria.