International envoy Kofi Annan and the major powers have launched a final drive to find a diplomatic solution to the Syria crisis while preparing sanctions and emergency plans for UN observers in the conflict-stricken state.
Annan wants to get Russia, President Bashar al-Assad’s last major ally, and the United States, which has called for the Syrian leader to step down, and other key nations behind an effort to bring Assad into talks, diplomats and officials said.
The UN-Arab League envoy hopes to unveil his new plan at a meeting in Geneva on June 30, according to UN diplomats.
Annan held talks with Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague in London on Thursday and Hague said it was “urgent” to hold a Syria meeting soon.
UN leader Ban Ki-moon discussed Syria on the sidelines of a UN summit in Brazil with Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose country also has influence on Assad, and China’s Premier Wen Jiabao, a UN spokesman said.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who spoke with Annan on Wednesday, said the envoy is working on a “political transition roadmap” for Syria, where activists say 15 months of conflict have left more than 15,000 people dead.
Annan would be making a proposal to Russia, Turkey and other interested groups “to try to get them to agree on this roadmap” and to put pressure on Assad and the Syrian opposition, Clinton told reporters.
The envoy’s current six-point peace plan, which includes the return of troops and weaponry to barracks as a prelude to talks, was agreed by Assad but has never been carried out.
Annan’s spokesman Ahmad Fawzi told AFP that the special envoy’s talks with Clinton and other “key” ministers was to “agree on the principles of convening such a meeting that would agree on the way forward for Syria and agree how we can get the six-point plan to be implemented.”
Annan wants an “action plan that will give teeth to the six point plan, and that will force the parties to stop killing each other and start moving toward a political settlement of this crisis,” Fawzi said in a telephone interview.
The envoy and the head of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS) are to hold a press conference in Geneva on Friday to reveal more details of the increasingly desperate peace bid.
Pressure will also increase with Ban set to make recommendations on the future of the mission by July 2. A Friends of Syria meeting — mainly countries that want Assad out — will be held in Paris on July 6.
All nations have backed Annan’s plan, but the 15-nation Security Council is divided over how to get it working.
Using their powers as permanent Security Council members, Russia and China have vetoed two Syria resolutions that just hinted at sanctions.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reaffirmed Thursday that any plan calling for Assad’s departure before a halt to violence and a political process “simply does not work from the very start.”
“It is infeasible because he will not leave,” Lavrov said on Echo of Moscow radio.
The United States, Britain and France are working on a new resolution that would call for sanctions against Assad if he does not carry out the six-point plan.
Russia has vowed to oppose any Libya-style military intervention in Syria. But talks between President Vladimir Putin and leaders at the Group of 20 summit in Mexico this week left Western nations believing that sanctions could be possible.
The United Nations is meanwhile reviewing the future of UNSMIS, whose mandate ends on July 20.
According to diplomats at Tuesday’s Security Council meeting, UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous outlined options including:
— Expanding the mission
— Arming the nearly 300 unarmed observers or sending force protection
— Shrinking the mission, with fewer military observers or just keeping civilian staff
— Closing the mission
Ladsous told the meeting that he did not believe expanding the mission or arming it were “viable” solutions because the Syrian government would not agree, according to diplomats.
“We are now heading toward a point of no return,” said one Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Unless something dramatic changes — particularly in terms of the posture of the government of Syria — the UNSMIS operation would become untenable and that would obviously effect Kofi Annan’s six-point plan,” the diplomat added.