DAMASCUS - International envoy Kofi Annan said he agreed with President Bashar al-Assad on Monday on a new political “approach” to end Syria’s 16-month-old conflict that he would put to the rebels.
Stepping up efforts to halt the carnage which monitors say has cost more than 17,000 lives, the UN-Arab League envoy was reportedly to travel on to Iran, Syria’s close ally. “We discussed the need to end the violence and ways and means of doing so. We agreed an approach which I will share with the armed opposition,” Annan said after meeting Assad in Damascus. The former UN chief said he had a “constructive” meeting with Assad, on his third such mission for talks on his six-point peace plan for Syria since he was appointed in February. “I had constructive and candid talks with President Assad,” he told reporters at a Damascus hotel, echoing Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi who termed the meeting “constructive and good”. Makdissi also said via Twitter that Assad would hold a separate meeting with Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem. Al-Watan newspaper, which is close to the government, said the Annan-Assad talks focused on the results of the Geneva meeting at the end of June of an international contact group on Syria.
They discussed means “to implement the results of the meeting ... on forming a transitional government in Syria that groups government and opposition representatives without mention of Assad’s departure.” World powers at the meeting agreed a plan for a transition which did not make an explicit call for Assad to quit power, although the West and the opposition made clear it saw no role for him in a unity government. The meetings came as at least 20 people were killed across Syria, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, and a day after nearly 100 people died in violence. The opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) slammed Annan’s decision to meet Assad, saying thousands have been killed in the country despite an April ceasefire that is a key point of the envoy’s plan. Ahead of his trip to Damascus, Annan, whose military observers in Syria have been grounded due to escalating violence, admitted his peace blueprint has so far failed to stem the bloodshed, in remarks published by French newspaper Le Monde.
He also expressed frustration that while Moscow and Iran are mentioned by some as stumbling blocks to peace, “little is said about other countries which send arms, money, and have a presence on the ground.”
— US ‘part of the conflict’ — And, in an defiant interview late on Sunday, Assad told German public broadcaster ARD that many countries were undermining Annan’s initiative. The United States is “part of the conflict. They offer the umbrella and political support to those gangs to... destabilise Syria,” said the embattled Syrian leader.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday that Syria needed dialogue between the regime and opposition rather than foreign intervention to ensure a lasting peace. Putin spoke only hours after prominent Syrian opposition leader and intellectual Michel Kilo held talks in Moscow with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The Observatory, a monitoring group based in Britain, estimates that 5,898 people have been killed since the Annan-brokered truce was announced.