Annan: Assad proposes gradual steps to end violence

Washington criticizes Iranian participation in cease-fire talks • Syrian mortars kill 3 in northern Lebanon; Russia sends Black Sea warship to Syria, says source.

Syria 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Syria 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON/BAGHDAD – Syrian President Bashar Assad has suggested ending Syria’s conflict on a step-by-step basis, starting with districts that have suffered the worst violence, international mediator Kofi Annan said on Tuesday.
The UN-Arab League envoy met Assad in Damascus on Monday, launching a round of shuttle diplomacy to try to revive his moribund plan for ending Syria’s 16-month-old uprising in which rebels are fighting to topple the authoritarian leader.
Speaking to reporters after talks in Iran, Annan said Assad had proposed “building an approach from the ground up in some of the districts where we have extreme violence – to try and contain the violence in those districts and, step by step, build up and end the violence across the country.”
Annan said he needed to discuss the proposal with the Syrian opposition and could not give further details.
It was not clear how or where he planned to do this with opposition leaders, who say there can be no peaceful transition unless Assad, who tried to crush popular protests by armed force from the moment they began, relinquishes power first.
After talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, Annan flew to Baghdad. He will present the conclusions of his tour to the Security Council in New York on Wednesday, according to the French Foreign Ministry.
The White House criticized on Tuesday the concept that Tehran could be constructive in resolving the conflict in Syria, after UN mediator Kofi Annan held meetings with Iranian officials.
“I don’t think anybody with a straight face could argue that Iran has had a positive impact on developments in Syria,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday.
The comment came after weeks of discussion over Iran’s possible role in helping a UN-brokered attempt at a cease-fire in the strife-ridden country in which the US has made it clear that it opposes Iranian participation.
Though Annan had overlooked US objections in reaching out to Iran, Carney still indicated US backing for his efforts.
“Broadly, on the Annan plan, we believe that it is essential that the international community come together behind the plan, that the plan be implemented,” Carney said.
“We remain highly skeptical about Assad’s willingness to meet his commitments, which is another reason why Syria’s future cannot plausibly have Bashar Assad in the government.
He’s long since lost his credibility,” he added.
Carney also urged a change of course in countries like Iran that have supported the Syrian leader.
Syria’s major ally Russia proposed what sounded like an alternative to the Western-backed, anti-Assad “Friends of Syria” forum, with an offer to visiting Syrian opposition groups to host regular meetings of Annan’s own “action group” of states, which is more balanced between pro- and anti- Assad influences.
Russia, while having distanced itself somewhat from Assad by saying it would no longer deliver arms to Damascus while fighting continues, says no transition plan can presuppose that Assad, whose family has ruled Syria for 42 years, will step down.
Meanwhile, Russia dispatched a destroyer-class warship to Syria on Tuesday, a Russian Navy source told Reuters, and another military source was quoted as saying four more Russian ships were en route to the violence-torn country.
Interfax quoted the military source as saying the ships were carrying marines on a training mission as well as food, water and fuel for Russia’s naval maintenance and repair base in Syria’s Mediterranean port of Tartous – Moscow’s only naval base outside of the former Soviet Union and its navy regularly sends supplies there.
The destroyer Smetlivy, which patrolled the waters off the coast of Syria in April and May, was seen leaving the Black Sea port of Sevastopol on Tuesday morning.
The activist Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 17,129 people have been killed in Syria’s increasingly sectarian revolt pitting rebels from the Sunni majority against Assad’s Shi’ite-related Alawites.
It said 11,897 civilians or armed insurgents had been killed by Assad’s forces, but that it could not determine how many fell into each category. It also estimated that 884 defectors had been killed. The Observatory put the death toll among Syrian security forces loyal to Assad at 4,348.
The Observatory said some 100 people were killed on Monday, most of them insurgents. In the northern Aleppo and Idlib provinces, which border Turkey, several towns were shelled.
In Latakia province, further west but also close to the Turkish border, Syrian forces fired on Jabal al-Akrad in an attempt to regain control from rebels infiltrating from Turkey. In Deir al- Zor, on the eastern road to Iraq, a volunteer medic was killed and at least four soldiers died in fighting.
The opposition Syrian National Council said it was time for the UN to declare a humanitarian emergency in Syria, where the UN says 1.5 million out of a population of 22 million have been affected by the conflict.
Three people were killed when Syrian mortars hit villages in neighboring north Lebanon.
Locals said they were under fire for five hours overnight, after sporadic shelling in the area lasting several days.
It was the second such fatal attack in three days. Three people were killed inside Lebanon by mortar fire at the weekend.