World Bulletin / News Desk
Russia and other big powers have told mediator Kofi Annan that they support his idea of a Syrian national unity cabinet that could include government and opposition members but would exclude those whose participation would undermine it, envoys said on Wednesday.
Annan's proposal for a political transition aimed at ending the 16-month conflict in Syria is one of the main topics that Russia, the other four permanent Security Council members and key players in the Middle East will discuss at a meeting in Geneva on Saturday, diplomats told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
One diplomat summarized Annan's proposal, saying the Syria conflict can only end when all sides see a peaceful way to a shared future." Annan made clear it was "vital that (any) settlement (be) irreversible, (with) clear transition steps in fixed timeline," he said.
"These include establishing a transitional national unity government to create a neutral backdrop for transition," the diplomat said in his summary of Annan's plan.
"It could comprise present government members, opposition and others, but would need to exclude those whose continued participation or presence would jeopardize the transition's credibility, or harm prospects for reconciliation and stability."
The diplomat added that the idea of excluding certain people was clearly referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, though Annan's proposal does not explicitly say Assad could not serve in a national unity government. That gives Russia the option of insisting that Assad be allowed to stay in power.
"The Russians signaled to Annan that they accept his transition plan," he said. Several Western diplomats confirmed his remarks, adding that all five permanent veto-wielding U.N. Security Council members backed it.
Another diplomat said Russia's acceptance of Annan's proposal, which he circulated to the five permanent Security Council members this week, did not mean it has abandoned Assad.
"I'm very skeptical," he said. "I don't see the Russians giving up on Assad."
The Russian mission at the United Nations was not available for comment.
Shift in Russia's stance?
Annan made acceptance of his guidelines for a political transition for Syria a condition for organizing Saturday's meeting, which will include Turkey, the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar. It will not include Iran or Saudi Arabia.
Russia has repeatedly said its supports Annan's idea of creating a "contact group" of powerful nations and regional players with influence on the Syrian government or the opposition to push for an end to the violence in Syria.
Several diplomats said Russia's acceptance of Annan's proposal appeared to signal a shift in its stance on Syria. But it was not immediately clear if Moscow's support for the idea of a national unity government in principle meant that it was now abandoning Assad, a staunch ally and key Russian arms purchaser.
Saturday's meeting, which Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will attend, will have to agree on the details of the political transition and the mechanisms for implementing it, diplomats said.
Annan, a former U.N. secretary-general, also wants Saturday's meeting to revive his moribund six-point peace plan that has failed to end the fighting between Assad's forces and an increasingly militarized opposition. The conflict has escalated in recent weeks.
Annan said the aim of the one-day talks was to identify measures to secure full implementation of his stalled peace plan and Security Council resolutions, including an immediate halt to all violence.
'We have decided to suspend direct talks with the rebels to protest continuing violations of the ceasefire,' a Yemeni government official says
Military sources say at least two ISIL militants die in drone-strike operation launched from Turkey
FSA stops Democratic Union Party (PYD) terrorist group from making advances in beleaguered city despite regime support for the latter
Moderates make gains over conservatives, winning 35 seats, local media says
The latest round of attacks on Syria has compelled Qatar to request an emergency meeting to discuss the air raids on Aleppo
The Assad regime – with Russian support – has continued to target opposition-held areas of Syria's northwestern Aleppo province with fresh strikes killing 7 people
Key issues will be discussed in face to face peace talks between Yemen's warring parties
Unofficial, incomplete results from Iran's parliamentary runoff election show 33 to 40 of the 68 seats being contested went to allies of President Hassan Rouhani
Russia's state-run TASS reports US and Russia agree on 72-hour cease-fire in Latakia starting just after midnight Saturday
Syria’s Kurdish National Council slams PYD parading dead bodies of FSA fighters as 'brutal and barbaric'
'The violence is soaring back to the levels we saw prior to the cessation of hostilities,' UN human rights chief says
'This announcement came after a request from the Americans and the Russians, who met in Geneva to calm down the situation in Damascus and Latakia'
In the first four months of the year, authorities deported 14,400 expats, compared with 26,600 in the whole of 2015
Russian and Syrian warplanes have intensified attacks against civilians in Aleppo’s opposition-controlled areas
'The persistent failure of the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court is an example of the most shameful form of realpolitik,' Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein says
Iranians has begun voting on Friday in a second round of parliamentary elections with allies of President Hassan Rouhani seeking to wrest seats from hardliners.