Bashar al-Assad has discussed transitional government – UN envoy
Kofi Annan says Syrian president proposed someone who could serve as interlocutor for regime
Syrian president Bashar al-Assad has discussed the possibility of forming a transitional government for his country as proposed by an international conference in Geneva last month, Kofi Annan said on Wednesday.
Annan, the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, said that during his discussions with Assad in Damascus this week the Syrian leader proposed someone who could serve as an interlocutor for the regime as it explores ways of forming a transitional government with the opposition.
Activists estimate that 17,000 people have been killed in the regime’s crackdown on a popular uprising that began that began in March 2011. As the conflict has dragged on, the increasingly armed rebellion appears to be getting more radicalised and violent, complicating the goal of a peaceful resolution or transfer of power. The Syrian ambassador to Iraq defected to the opposition on Wednesday, striking a major blow to the regime.
Annan spoke to reporters in Geneva after a private videoconference session with the UN security council in New York. The envoy did not identify the person whose name Assad put forward, but said: “He did offer a name and I indicated that I wanted to know a bit more about that individual. So we are at that stage.”
Annan urged the 15-nation council, the most powerful arm of the United Nations, to send a message to the Syrian government and the opposition that there will be “consequences” if they don’t comply with demands for an immediate cease-fire, Britain’s UN ambassador, Mark Lyall Grant, said.
“He called for the security council members to put aside their national interests and to put joint and sustained pressure on both parties with clear consequences for non-compliance,” Lyall Grant said after the meeting.
To accomplish that, he added, western nations would be introducing a draft resolution threatening sanctions against the Syrian government and opposition if Annan’s six-point peace plan and guidelines for a Syrian-led political transition adopted in Geneva last month are not implemented. The proposed resolution would be under chapter 7 of the UN charter, which can be enforced militarily.
Russia and China, key allies of Assad and veto-wielding council members, have blocked repeated attempts by the United States and its European allies to even threaten “consequences” – a diplomatic code word for sanctions.
Russia’s deputy UN ambassador, Alexander Pankin, said Annan “sounded very concerned, [but] there are encouraging signs” after his meeting with Assad.
“Kofi Annan did not ask us to apply sanctions. He just said that the security council should speak in a united and single voice and make sure to send a signal that its suggested recommendations and actions have to be implemented,” Pankin said. Russia wants “consolidated pressure on all parties,” he added, and believes that any militarily enforceable resolution “is the last resort”.
Two Syrian opposition delegations visited Moscow this week, raising hopes that Russia could be pushed to accept Assad’s ouster, but Syrian National Council head Abdelbaset Sieda said he saw “no change” in Moscow’s stance after meeting with officials including the foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov. Sieda said Russia’s resistance to international intervention in the conflict was bringing misery and suffering to Syria.
Pankin said: “What we heard from many factions and many representatives of the opposition is they are not ready for diplomatic or political dialogue. They don’t trust the current government. They would continue fighting, which is very discouraging.”
Annan’s peace plan, submitted in March and accepted by Assad’s government, called for an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal of heavy weapons from populated areas by the Syrian government to be followed by a cessation of hostilities by the opposition. It led to a ceasefire agreement on 12 April, which has failed to hold.
The UN sent a 300-strong unarmed observer mission to Syria for 90 days to oversee the cessation of violence and monitor implementation of the Annan plan. The team was forced to withdraw from key conflict areas because of escalating fighting and the council must decide what to do about extending its mandate, which expires on 20 July.
At a conference in Geneva on 30 June, Russia insisted that any political transition must have the “mutual consent” of Assad’s government and the opposition, essentially handing a veto on the peacemaking process to both sides.
On the eve of Annan’s briefing on Wednesday, Russia circulated a draft resolution to security council members that would extend the UN observer force mission in Syria but refocus its activities on trying to achieve a political solution to the conflict.
Britain, France, Germany, Portugal and the United States were drafting rival texts but were waiting to hear what Annan had to say.
France’s UN ambassador, Gerard Araud, said the Russian draft has “no teeth” to ensure implementation of the Annan plan and the guidelines for a political process which is why a chapter 7 resolution threatening sanctions is critical.
Annan briefed the council on his talks with Assad in Damascus and his visits to Iran and Iraq. He told reporters in Tehran and Baghdad on Tuesday that Assad agreed to a plan to contain the bloodshed in the most violent areas of Syria step-by-step and then expand the operation to the whole country.
Annan said on Wednesday, however, that these steps would be incorporated into the broader six-point plan that he has insisted on all along.
“Within that framework the discussion we had was to take action at those locations where one has such horrific violence that you can’t get in humanitarian assistance, people who are trapped couldn’t get out, and work out ceasefire arrangements at these localities with possibly the help of UNSMIS [the UN truce mission],” Annan said.
“This does not free anybody from the broader obligation of the ceasefire as indicated in the plan,” he said.