Annan in 'constructive' Assad talks
International envoy Kofi Annan raised hopes of a revived peace effort in Syria, saying he has reached a framework with president Bashar Assad and would hold talks with rebel leaders.
Mr Annan was travelling to Damascus's key ally Iran later for talks with leaders there. Mr Annan is the architect of an international plan to end Syria's 16-month-old crisis, which started with largely peaceful protests calling for reforms but has since transformed into a bloody insurgency to topple Mr Assad.
With violence growing increasingly intense and diplomatic efforts faltering, Mr Annan has said Iran must be a part of a solution to a conflict that activists say has killed at least 14,000 people. It is unclear what role Mr Annan envisions for Iran, a staunch Syrian ally that has stood by Mr Assad throughout the uprising. Tehran's close ties could make it an interlocutor with the regime, though the US has often refused to let the Islamic Republic attend conferences about the Syria crisis.
"We agreed on an approach which I will share with the armed opposition," Mr Annan told reporters following a two-hour meeting with Mr Assad which he described as "candid and constructive".
"I also stressed the importance of moving ahead with a political dialogue which the president accepts," he said. Mr Annan did not disclose details of the framework he reached with Mr Assad. Iranian state TV said Mr Annan will be travelling to Tehran for meetings later.
In an interview with the French daily Le Monde on Saturday, Mr Annan acknowledged that the international community's efforts to find a political solution to the escalating violence in Syria have failed. He added that more attention needed to be paid to the role of longtime Syrian ally Iran, saying Tehran "should be part of the solution".
Mr Annan's six-point peace plan was to begin with a ceasefire in mid-April between government forces and rebels seeking to topple Mr Assad, to be followed by political dialogue. But the truce never took hold, and almost 300 UN observers sent to monitor the ceasefire are now confined to their hotels because of the escalating violence.
"President Assad reassured me of the government's commitment to the six-point plan which, of course, we should move ahead to implement in a much better fashion than has been the situation so far," Mr Annan told reporters. Mr Annan said his team in Syria will follow up on the agreement reached with Mr Assad. "I also encourage governments and other entities with influence to have a similar effort," he added.
Meanwhile, an opposition group that documents human rights violations in Syria said more than 17,000 people have been killed since the uprising against Mr Assad began in March 2011. The violence has grown increasingly chaotic in recent months and it is difficult to assign blame for much of the bloodshed as the country spirals towards civil war. The government restricts journalists from moving freely, making it impossible to independently verify death tolls.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said today that among the 17,129 deaths are 11,897 civilians, 4,348 soldiers and 884 military defectors. The group has a network of activists on the ground who document deaths and rights violations through eyewitness accounts, hospitals and video footage. Another group, the Local Co-ordination Committees, says 14,841 civilians have been killed.