International peace envoy Kofi Annan said on Wednesday that an action group on Syria would meet this weekend in a new bid to shore up his faltering peace plan, but Iran was kept off the invitation list.
The former UN secretary-general said a ministerial level meeting of the action group would take place in Geneva on Saturday, featuring all five permanent members of the UN Security Council and other key regional players.
“I look forward to a productive meeting this weekend, where we can all agree on concrete actions to end the cycle of violence and bring peace and stability to the Syrian people,” Annan said in a statement.
But while US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — who is among those due to attend — gave Annan her full backing, the news that Iran was not among those invited was likely to infuriate Syria’s chief ally, Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that Iran should be invited to any international meeting in Geneva, saying it “would complicate the process” if Tehran were to be shut out.
Russia is still smarting from the West’s involvement in ousting Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and has key strategic interests in Syria, where it has supported the ruling Ba’ath party since the Soviet era.
Syria also shelters Russia’s only Mediterranean naval base.
A six-point peace plan drawn up by Annan came into force in mid-April. But its key provisions, which include a total cessation of violence, have been repeatedly breached since then.
In his statement, Annan said that the action group aimed to “identify steps and measures to secure full implementation of the six-point plan”.
But he also said Saturday’s meeting would seek agreement “on guidelines and principles for a Syrian-led political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people” as well as “agree on actions that will make these objectives a reality on the ground”.
Syria’s neighbour Turkey, which has been at the centre of a bitter exchanges with Damascus since one of its warplanes was shot down last week, has been invited, along with foreign ministers from Qatar, Iraq and Kuwait.
One notable absentee is Saudi Arabia, a strong supporter of opposition forces in Syria.
Clinton, who is currently on a tour of Europe, will head up the US delegation in the talks. She is to meet her Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in St Petersburg on Friday, according to a high ranking US source.
“I’ve been in close consultation with special envoy Kofi Annan about the prospects for a meeting that would focus on a roadmap for political transition in Syria,” Clinton said during a visit to Helsinki earlier on Wednesday.
He “has developed his own very concrete roadmap for political transition, he has been circulating it for comments and when I spoke to him yesterday I conveyed our support for the plan that he has put forward.”
“We think it embodies the principles needed for any political transition in Syria that could lead to a peaceful, democratic and representative outcome reflecting the will of the Syrian people.”
China, which has also helped Syria escape censure at the Security Council, said on Wednesday it had a “positive attitude” towards the meeting.
“Regarding the conference planned for June 30, China is holding an open and positive attitude,” said ambassador Xia Jingge at the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“We hope this conference will lead to international consensus.”
France has not confirmed it will attend and foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero on Wednesday highlighted the need for participants to take a clear position on a handover of power.
“Concretely, the Action Group must agree on the principles and steps for a democratic transition in Syria, as well as the priority attached to an end to repression and free access for humanitarian aid to civilians,” he said.
More than 15,800 people have been killed since the outbreak of the revolt against President al-Assad’s regime in March last year, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Wednesday.
“The last week was the bloodiest week of the Syrian Revolution,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said, adding that 916 people were killed from June 20 to June 26.