World Bulletin / News Desk
Russia proposed changes on Thursday to international mediator Kofi Annan's plan for a national unity government in Syria, despite initially supporting it, but the United States, Britain and France rejected the amendments, Western diplomats said.
The suggested changes are related to Moscow's refusal to support the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, diplomats said on condition of anonymity.
Russia and the other permanent U.N. Security Council members told Annan this week they support a transitional Cabinet that could include government and opposition members but would "exclude ... those whose continued presence and participation would undermine the credibility of the transition and jeopardize stability and reconciliation," according to Annan's proposal.
Diplomats told Reuters that Annan's idea of excluding certain people was clearly referring to Assad, though the proposal does not explicitly say the Syrian president could not serve in a national unity government.
Annan's proposal for a political transition aimed at ending the 16-month conflict in Syria is one of the main issues that Russia, the other four permanent Security Council members and key players in the Middle East planned to discuss at a high-level meeting in Geneva on Saturday.
Although Russia signaled to Annan this week that his plan was acceptable to Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reversed course on Thursday, diplomats said. He publicly complained on the Foreign Ministry's Twitter feed about the way details of Annan's proposal were leaked to the media.
"Any leaks to press from draft report on Annan plan are evidence of unscrupulous diplomatic practices," Lavrov said.
Diplomats said the Russians have now demanded that Annan remove from his proposal the language about excluding people from a Syrian national unity government, an amendment they said was unacceptable.
Annan and the Western delegations were encouraging Moscow to drop the demand, envoys said, adding that the issue would certainly come up when Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meet in Russia on Friday.
One diplomat said the Russians were now "walking back" from their earlier for support for Annan's proposal. They said the United States, Britain and France had waited until Russia informed Annan of its acceptance of his political transition proposal before agreeing to go to Geneva to discuss it.
A senior Western diplomat said the United States, Britain and France were getting "mixed messages from Russia, which could put the Geneva meeting in doubt."
The language about excluding certain people is the whole point of Annan's political transition plan, which cannot be credible if it leaves Assad in power, the envoys said.
"Without that sentence about exclusions, there's no transition plan," said one diplomat.
Moscow has refused to abandon Assad, a staunch Russian ally and major purchaser of Russian weapons.
Another amendment suggested by Russia, which Western diplomats said was equally unacceptable, was to include a call on the Syrian government and the opposition to stop fighting simultaneously.
"Obviously the government has to stop fighting first," a Western diplomat said.
Russia's U.N. mission was not immediately available for a response.
Annan had made preliminary acceptance of his guidelines for a political transition for Syria a condition for organizing Saturday's meeting in Geneva. The meeting is to include the Turkey, United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar. Iran and Saudi Arabia were not invited.
Senior diplomats from the countries attending the meeting will gather in Geneva on Friday to try to prevent any collapse of Saturday's ministerial-level talks.
Russia has repeatedly said it 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.
Moscow has also said it is not insisting that Assad must remain in power at all costs, but that any decision on whether or not he should step down should come from the Syrian people, not from outside pressure or military intervention, as happened last year in Libya.
The United States, Britain and France have said that Assad is responsible for the violence, which the United Nations estimates has killed at least 10,000 people, is no longer fit to govern. Russia and China, however, reject what they describe as Western calls for "regime change."
The relatives of soldiers taken by the militant group from Tikrit north of Baghdad had been scheduled to address parliament about the fate of their loved ones
The two had spent three months in Israeli administrative detention
By convening a joint session of parliament, where Sharif has a solid majority, the prime minister seeks to reaffirm that he is fully in control of the situation.
A political crisis in Pakistan means many are watching out for the army's reaction but the army itself is denying any involvement.
The trial comes as civil society groups voice increasing concern over what they say is a rise in the number of criminal defamation cases brought by the military against rights workers and journalists
Although no date has been set for the transfer, the Pentagon in July handed the U.S. Congress a legally required 30-day notice that it intended to transfer the small group of prisoners from the base in Cuba
Mohamed Ali Nasri told reporters in hospital that about five gunmen attacked his house
Police used pepper spray to disperse activists as Hong Kong centre braces for a wave of disruptive protests against China's decision.
Fiji said the group was demanding compensation for three fighters killed in the confrontation with the U.N. peacekeepers, as well as humanitarian assistance to the people of Ruta, and the removal of the organisation from the U.N. list of banned terrorist organisations.
Although Australia is not a NATO member, its troops fought alongside the coalition in Iraq and Afghanistan
More than 2,000 Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh will be allowed back into Myanmar.
The militia said in a statement that was signed by its first deputy head Nouredine Adam that it was not consulted about the selection of the three ministers who should represent it in the new government.
Channel 2 broadcast a video allegedly of the Iranian drone being shot down by Israel's air defense over the Golan Heights.
Oxfam said that mega public-private partnerships are unproven, risky and represent a dubious use of public funds to fight poverty and food insecurity.
Leading Nigerian rights group Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) asked the ICC prosecutor to investigate information that top Nigerian government officials were sponsoring Boko Haram.
Azarakhsh Hafizi, chairman of the Gas Importer’s Association, told journalists in Kabul on Monday that traders were ready to help the government in cutting down the price of this basic commodity.