Sunday Times 2

Annan urges world leaders to unite on Syria peace plan

GENEVA, June 30 (Reuters)

U.N. mediator Kofi Annan warned on Saturday that the conflict in Syria would enflame the Middle East and beyond unless world powers agreed on a peace plan but the United States said foreign ministers meeting in Geneva might fail in that task.

Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League for Syria Kofi Annan (R) and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are pictured at the UN European headquarters in Geneva (REUTERS)

International talks started with governments still indispute over whether President Bashar al-Assad, reviled in the West for his assault on opponents but still supported by Russia, could have any role in a political transition. Annan, the former U.N. chief and the special internationalenvoy on Syria, is hoping for consensus on a plan for a unity government that would exclude controversial figures from leadership – effectively meaning Assad would step down.

“We are here to agree on guidelines and principles for aSyrian-led political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people,” he said in opening remarks. “No one should be in any doubt as to the extreme dangers posed by the conflict – to Syrians, to the region, and to the world.”

His appeal gave a note of urgency to the need for worldpowers to move closer in their positions as the 16-month-old conflict in Syria deepens by the day. Moscow, a long-time ally of Assad and an opponent of what itsees as foreign meddling in domestic affairs, objects to any solution imposed on Syria from outside. The United States and its European and Arab allies see no way ahead while power remains in Assad’s hands.

Annan all but chided the world powers for failing to haltthe bloodshed sooner, saying the crisis should never have reached this point. “Either unite to secure your common interests or divide andsurely fail in your own individual way. Without your unity, your common resolve and your action now … nobody can win and everyone will lose in some way,” he said.
The mood of pessimism was reinforced by a senior U.S.

official who said the talks might or might not reach a deal on Saturday. “Discussions remain challenging. We’re continuing to work onthis today, but we need a plan that is strong and credible. So we may get there, we may not,” the official told reporters.
Even as the diplomats gathered at the U.N. complex by theshores of Lake Geneva, the Syrian army rained mortar fire on pro-opposition areas in Deir al-Zor, Homs, Idlib and the outskirts of Damascus, activists said.

Government troops were fighting rebels of the Free SyriaArmy at several points. Syria’s border with Turkey was also tense following a Turkish military build-up in response to Syria’s shooting down of a Turkish warplane last week.
More than 10,000 people have been killed since the anti-Assad uprising broke out and the past few weeks and days have been amongst the bloodiest yet.

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