Russia objections put Syria crisis meeting in doubt
UNITED NATIONS - UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan is battling to save an international meeting on the Syria crisis set for Saturday, June 30, following Russian objections to his proposed transition plan, diplomats said.
Annan has called talks between senior officials from Russia, the United States, France, Britain and China in Geneva on Friday in a bid to rescue the meeting of foreign ministers the next day, diplomats said.
A meeting between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Saint Petersburg on Friday could also decide the fate of future international action on Syria.
Clinton and the foreign ministers of Britain and France, William Hague and Laurent Fabius, have told Annan there will be no point holding the Geneva meeting unless an accord on a transition plan can be guaranteed, diplomats said.
The Geneva conference with Clinton, Lavrov, Hague, Fabius, China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and the foreign ministers of Qatar, Turkey and Kuwait had been intended as a public show of support for Annan's transition plan.
Annan announced the meeting on Tuesday having said he would only call the ministers to Geneva if he was sure it would unite around a plan to end the worsening conflict that Syrian activists say has left more than 15,000 dead.
Russia, the last major ally of President Bashar al-Assad, has objected to a proposal which could limit membership of a transitional unity government in Syria, diplomats said.
Annan's plan, obtained by AFP, said the interim government could include Assad officials and the opposition "but would exclude from government those whose continued presence and participation would undermine the credibility of the transition and jeopardize stability and reconciliation."
Diplomats have said this means that Assad could be ruled out of the government but did not automatically exclude his participation. Opposition figures could also be kept out under the same formula, they stressed.
Annan has spoken with all of the foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the Security Council in the past 24 hours in a bid to end the dispute, diplomats said.
"There is now a serious threat to the Geneva meeting," one UN diplomat told AFP speaking on condition of anonymity, because of the sensitivity of the talks. "The Russians are back-pedalling," commented a western official.
"Russia signalled its agreement early on, that was what we were told and that was the basis for the meeting. Since then we are getting some mixed messages that the Russians may be resigning from that position," said a senior UN diplomat.
"Obviously that would be most unfortunate and may put the meeting in doubt if that is the case. So I think Annan is trying to resolve that with the Russians," added the envoy.
Clinton and Lavrov hinted at the dispute before they arrived for their talks in Russia.
Speaking in Riga, Clinton stressed that all parties invited to the Geneva meeting had agreed to attend with the understanding that political transition was needed.
"It was very clear from the invitations that were extended by special envoy Kofi Annan that people were coming on the basis of the transition plan that he had presented," she said.
Lavrov dismissed the idea that his attendance meant automatic acceptance of the plan.
"Foreign players should not be dictating their solutions to the Syrians. We do not and cannot support any intervention or solutions dictated from abroad," Lavrov said.
Lavrov spoke by phone with Annan about "organizational aspects of the meeting," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement. - Agence France-Presse