Annan to put new 'approach' to rebels after Assad talks
DAMASCUS - Agence France-Presse
U.N. Syria peace envoy Kofi Annan speaks to the media at a hotel after returning from a meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus July 9, 2012. REUTERS/Khaled al-HaririInternational envoy Kofi Annan said he agreed with President Bashar al-Assad on Monday on a new "approach" to end Syria's 16-month-old conflict that he would put to the rebels.
Stepping up political 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".
The meeting came a day after nearly 100 people were reportedly killed in Syria and at a time of apparently uncompromising anger from the opposition.
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 admitted his peace blueprint has so far failed to stem the bloodshed in Syria, 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." 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.
Assad said the Annan plan had failed because "many countries don't want it to succeed." His decision to travel to Damascus and hold talks with Assad was criticised by the SNC, the main opposition group in exile which cited the high death toll since they agreed an April 12 ceasefire.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group based in Britain, estimates that 5,898 people have been killed since the truce was announced.
"In this context, Annan chose to meet with the symbols of the Syrian regime, while abstaining from the Friends of Syria conference in Paris," the SNC said, asserting that Syrians "cannot justify these steps".
It also questioned Annan's support for Iran to play a diplomatic role, saying that "Tehran's support for its allies in the Syrian regime makes them partners in the aggression on the Syrian people." -- 'No US leadership' -- ======================== Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for his part, has accused the United States and its allies of opposing Assad's regime with the goal of dominating the Middle East and propping up Israel.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's on Sunday warned time was running out to save Syria from a "catastrophic assault".
"The sooner there can be an end to the violence and a begetting of a political transition process, not only will fewer people die, but there's a chance to save the Syrian state from a catastrophic assault," she said in Tokyo.
"It should be abundantly clear to those who support the Assad regime their days are numbered," Clinton said.
Meanwhile, the Syrian navy staged live fire exercises at the weekend to "simulate the scenario of repelling a sudden attack from the sea," state news agency SANA reported.
Republican US Senator John McCain on Sunday took President Barack Obama's administration to task for what he called its "shameful and disgraceful" response to the bloodshed in Syria.
"The fact is that the United States has played no leadership role," McCain told CBS television, referring to efforts to halt Syria's crackdown.
On the ground Monday, the Syrian army clashes with rebels in several main cities across the country, including the capital Damascus, Deir Ezzor in the east and Homs in central Syria, the Observatory said.
The Khaldiyeh neighbourhood of Homs came under fierce shelling by regime forces attempting to storm the rebel stronghold.
In the northern city of Aleppo, battles between the two took place in several neighbourhoods, while a roadside bomb targeting a security patrol killed two members of the security forces.
Regime forces also bombarded areas in rural Damascus and the southern province of Daraa, where clashes broke out near the Jordanian border, the watchdog said.