Saturday, June 30, 2012
Saturday, June 30, 2012
World powers meet Saturday in a desperate bid to salvage international envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan for Syria to end 16 months of bloodshed and agree on a transition plan for the strife-hit country.
A crunch meeting hours ahead of the talks between U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov led Moscow to issue an upbeat outlook for the conference, saying a deal was likely.
But Washington took a more cautious line, warning of persistent differences between the U.S.’ and Russia’s approach and dampening hopes of crucial progress needed to stop the crisis that according to rights monitors has left 15,800 dead since March last year.
Annan had announced the meeting on Tuesday, inviting Clinton, Lavrov, and the foreign ministers of Britain, China, France, Iraq, Qatar, Turkey and Kuwait to the talks, and conspicuously leaving Iran and Saudi Arabia out.
Meanwhile, Iran’s U.N. ambassador said on Friday that Iran could be a “heavyweight champion” of efforts to bring peace to Syria. Ambassador Mohammed Khazaee hit out at the Western powers, “particularly the United States,” for ignoring “the power and the influence of Iran.”
The United States and European nations opposed the presence of Iran, a long time ally of Assad. Diplomats said Russia opposed Saudi Arabia because of its support for the Syrian opposition.
Syrians ignore Annan’s plan
Annan circulated a proposal on a “Syrian-led transition” that could help save his peace process that has been largely ignored by both the ruling regime and opposition since it came in force on April 12.
Fighting has only intensified in recent weeks and rights monitors said more than 230 people — most of them civilians — had been killed across the strategic Middle East country since Thursday.
But doubts grew over the fate of Saturday’s meeting as it drew nearer, due to Russian opposition to Annan’s proposal on the composition of an interim Syrian government.
Annan’s draft, seen by AFP, sees power handed to an interim Syrian team without those “whose continued presence and participation would undermine the credibility of the transition and jeopardize stability and reconciliation.”
The wording appears to imply — without saying so directly — that President Assad would have to relinquish his grip on the presidency for the idea to succeed.
Russia angrily rejected the suggestion, while Western powers warned there was no point meeting in Geneva if there was no prior agreement on the issue.
But after Friday evening’s talks with Clinton, Lavrov said he “detected a shift” in Washington’s approach to ending the bloodshed that no longer involved a specific demand for Assad to leave.
“There were no ultimatums. Not a word was said about the document now being discussed in Geneva being completely untouchable,” Lavrov told reporters in reference to wording that suggest no future role for Assad.
“I can confidently say that we have a very good chance tomorrow in Geneva to find a common denominator and mark a path forward,” Lavrov added.
“We agreed to find a consensus that rests on a clear understanding… that the Syrian sides must be stimulated toward dialogue, but that the decision to what the state looks like and who occupies which posts can only be decided by the Syrians themselves.”
A conflicting message came from Lavrov’s deputy, Gennady Gatilov, who tweeted early on Saturday that experts in Geneva had thus far failed to agree to the wording of a final document on Syria because “the Western partners want to determine the political process themselves.”
The U.S. account of the Lavrov-Clinton meeting was also more measured and appeared to suggest little agreement on the future of Assad.
A senior U.S. State Department official noted some progress while conceding that “there were still areas of difficulty and difference” between the approaches of Russia and the United States.
“But out of respect to Kofi Annan, they agreed we should all go to Geneva tomorrow to try to produce a result,” said the official.
Violence killed 11 people across Syria on Saturday, mostly civilians, and hundreds more were trapped in Douma in Damascus province north of the capital, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The victims included a civilian shot dead by a sniper in Douma, an anti-regime activist in the central province of Hama, and one rebel in the southern province of Daraa, the Britain-based watchdog said.
It warned of a “catastrophic humanitarian situation” in Douma, which “has been subjected to a fierce military campaign since June 21.”
Violence has killed “scores and wounded hundreds” there since regime forces escalated attacks on the outlying suburb of Damascus, the group said.
“More than 100 families remain in the town, unable to flee and forced to take refuge in shelters,” the Observatory said, adding that most of those trapped are women and children, after the majority of the men fled repeated arrest sweeps.
Meanwhile, an explosion rocked the Qaboon district of Damascus on Saturday, the Observatory said, and another blast hit the country’s second city Aleppo in the north. No casualties were immediately reported.
Another blast hit an oil pipeline in a rebel-held area of the eastern province of Deir Ezzor.
On Friday, Syrian troops bombarded a rebellious suburb in Damascus with tank and artillery shells, killing dozens of people.
The latest violence came a day after 73 people were killed nationwide, among them 23 regime troops.
Source: Al Arabiya with agencies