UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has begun what he called a "very difficult" mission to bring peace to Syria with talks in Egypt, as he made his first official trip to the region.
Brahimi, replacing former UN chief Kofi Annan who quit over divisions in the UN Security Council on the deadly violence that has gripped Syria for nearly 18 months, arrived in Cairo late on Sunday.
"I realise it's a very difficult mission, but I think it is not my right to refuse to give whatever assistance I can to the Syrian people," Brahimi told reporters on Monday after talks with Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi.
Al Jazeera speaks about the situation in Syria with Fadi Salem, a researcher based in Dubai
"I am at the service of the Syrian people alone," he said, adding: "I will go to Damascus in a few days and I will meet officials and civil society members in the capital and outside."
Asked if he would meet Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, Brahimi said: "I hope to but I don't know."
Brahimi's spokesperson Ahmad Fawzi said late on Sunday that the date of the envoy's visit to Syria would be fixed once his programme of meetings is finalised.
The former Algerian foreign minister also met with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and then with Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr later on Monday.
Annan's peace plan was centred on a ceasefire that was supposed to open the way to political dialogue but the fighting never stopped. Expectations that Brahimi will have any more success than Annan are low, however.
The veteran troubleshooter has already said he was "scared" of the mission awaiting him in Syria, and has described the bloodshed there as "staggering" and the destruction as "catastrophic".
More than 27,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict erupted in March last year, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The UN puts the Syria death toll at 20,000.
'Contact group' meeting
Amid a flurry of diplomatic activity in Cairo, foreign ministry delegations from Egypt, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia are holding talks this week aimed at resolving the conflict in Syria.
The sessions that began on Monday were among diplomats preparing for a possible higher-level meeting of the four country's foreign ministers later, Egypt's foreign ministry said.
The meeting is the first of a regional "contact group" on Syria proposed by Morsi in August at a summit of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation in Saudi Arabia that suspended Syria's membership.
Egypt has said it will "work to reach a consensus over an immediate halt to the killing and violence; the preservation of Syrian unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity; the rejection of foreign military intervention in Syria".
It would also seek to "launch a political process with the participation of all segments of the Syrian population ... supporting Arab and international efforts aimed at resolving the crisis, including the mission of UN-Arab League
envoy Lakhdar Brahimi".
Earlier, Iran said that a deputy foreign minister, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, had left Tehran for Cairo to take part in the meeting.
'Day when Assad falls'
Brahimi's mission begins with key Security Council members the US and Russia split on how to tackle the conflict and as fighting rages, with dozens of people dying in Syria every day.
In-depth coverage of escalating violence across Syria
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Sunday that a new UN resolution on Syria would be pointless if it had "no teeth", because Assad would ignore it.
Speaking in Russia, Clinton said she was willing to work with Moscow on a new resolution but warned that Washington would step up support to end Assad's regime if the measure did not carry consequences.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after meeting Clinton that he hoped to seek Security Council approval for a peace plan agreed in June in Geneva that called for a ceasefire and political transition.
Clinton said if differences with Moscow persist, "then we will work with like-minded states to support a Syrian opposition to hasten the day when Assad falls".
As part of his diplomatic push, Brahimi may try to enlist Iran. Iran's Mehr news agency quoted an official as saying Brahimi was contemplating visiting the Islamic republic - Syria's diehard ally - after Damascus.
Annan had also visited Tehran to try to get it involved in finding an end to the bloodshed, but Washington has accused Iran of playing a "nefarious" role in Syria.
Last week Arab foreign ministers denounced the Syrian regime for carrying out "crimes against humanity".