United Nations special envoy Kofi Annan said he held “very candid” talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on reviving his three-month old cease-fire.
“We discussed the need to end the violence and ways and means of doing so,” Annan told journalists in Damascus, according to an e-mailed copy today of his remarks. “We agreed on an approach which I will share with the armed opposition.”
After the meeting, Annan travelled to Iran, his spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, said in an e-mailed statement. He is expected to meet Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi and other officials, Iran’s state-run Mehr news agency said. Annan said in a July 7 interview with Le Monde that Shiite Iran can’t be ignored as an influential ally of Syria. The Syrian National Council, the main opposition group, rejected Annan’s call for an Iranian role, describing Tehran as an accomplice in the aggression.
The Syrian uprising that began peacefully 16 months ago has evolved into a deadly confrontation that has confounded the international community, which disagrees on the strategy needed to persuade the Syrian president, whose family has held power for four decades, to leave.
The violence has claimed more than 17,000 lives since the conflict began in March 2011, Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said in a telephone interview from Coventry, England. He said the casualties include 4,348 members of Assad’s security forces. About 4,000 Syrians have been killed since Annan took on the peacemaking mission in February, according to the Local Coordination Committees, an activist group. At least 30 people died today, the group said in an e-mail.
The UN observer mission overseeing Annan’s cease-fire was suspended last month amid the growing violence.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has recommended reducing the approximately 300 monitors in Syria, and having the smaller mission based in Damascus. The Security Council will vote this week on a resolution based on Ban’s recommendations.
Annan told Le Monde that the UN has so far not been able to find a political solution to escalating violence in the country.
Assad said in an interview with the German broadcaster ARD aired yesterday that Annan’s effort’s “shouldn’t fail and Kofi Annan is doing -- so far, difficult -- but a good job. We know, he had many obstacles but it shouldn’t fail.”
When asked whether he would step aside if it would help bring peace, Assad said: “The president shouldn’t run away from challenge and we have a national challenge now in Syria. If I don’t have a support in public, how could I stay in this position?”
World powers adopted a plan for a Syrian transition government on June 30, altering a draft agreement proposed by Annan after Russia objected to language that would have prohibited members of Assad’s inner circle from joining a transitional government.
More than 70 percent of Syria’s population is Sunni Muslim. Assad and much of the ruling elite are members of the Alawite community, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
Assad has blamed much of the fighting on foreigners and extremists.
In the interview, Assad said the U.S., Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar were giving logistical and political support to the rebels. He said the U.S. government is “part of the conflict.”
Asked if he feared meeting the same fate as former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who was toppled and sentenced to life in prison, or Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, who was overthrown and killed last year, Assad said he had nothing in common with them.
“You cannot feel scared -- maybe feel sorry or a pity, whatever,” he said.
To contact the reporters on this story: Donna Abu-Nasr in Manama at firstname.lastname@example.org; Jennifer M. Freedman in Geneva at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at firstname.lastname@example.org