Syria conference leaves open Assad question
The U.S. backed away from insisting the plan explicitly exclude President Bashar Assad from any role, hoping to encourage Russia to put greater pressure on its longtime ally to end the violent crackdown.
The Associated Press
In related developments
Damascus: Syrian troops flushed out rebels from a key Damascus suburb Saturday, regaining control of a key area just outside the capital after a 10-day assault that left dozens dead, hundreds wounded and caused a major humanitarian crisis. In Zamalka, another suburb of Damascus, activists said more than 30 people were killed and many others wounded Saturday evening when a mortar shell struck a car that exploded as a funeral procession was taking place.
Times news services
GENEVA — An international conference on Saturday accepted a U.N.-brokered peace plan for Syria, but left open the key question of whether the country's president could be part of a transitional government.
The U.S. backed away from insisting the plan explicitly exclude President Bashar Assad from any role in a new government, hoping the concession would encourage Russia to put greater pressure on its longtime ally to end the violent crackdown the opposition says has claimed over 14,000 lives.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton insisted Assad would still have to go, saying it is "incumbent on Russia and China to show Assad the writing on the wall."
"There is a credible alternative to the Assad regime," she said. "What we have done here is to strip away the fiction that he and those with blood on their hands can stay in power."
Moscow had refused to back a provision that would call for Assad to step aside, insisting outsiders cannot order a political solution for Syria and accusing the West of ignoring the darker side of the Syrian opposition. The opposition has made clear it would not take part in a government in which Assad still held power.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov underlined that the plan does not require Assad's ouster, saying there is "no attempt in the document to impose on the Syrian people any type of transitional process."
More than a year into the uprising, Syria's opposition is still struggling to overcome infighting and inexperience, preventing the movement from gaining the traction it needs to instill confidence in its ability to govern.
The U.N. plan calls for establishing a transitional government of national unity, with full executive powers, that could include members of Assad's government and the opposition and other groups. It would oversee the drafting of a new constitution and elections.
Syria envoy Kofi Annan said after the talks that "it is for the people of Syria to come to a political agreement."
The envoy earlier had warned the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — that if they fail to act at the talks hosted by the United Nations at its European headquarters in Geneva, they face an international crisis of "grave severity" that could spark violence across the region and provide a new front for terrorism.
Syria, verging on a full-blown civil war, has endured a particularly bloody week, with up to 125 people reported killed nationwide on Thursday alone.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the Britain based Syrian observatory for human rights, said following the agreement that "no member of the Syrian opposition will accept to be part of a transitional government while Assad is still in power."
"Assad's staying in power will mean the continuation of the bloodshed in Syria," he said.
Unlike Libya's National Transitional Council, which brought together most factions fighting Gadhafi's regime and was quickly recognized by much of the international community, Syria's opposition has no leadership on the ground.
International tensions also heightened last week after Syria shot down a Turkish warplane, leading to Turkey setting up anti-aircraft guns on its border with its neighbor.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague noted U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told diplomats that a U.N. monitoring mission in Syria would have to be pulled back if no diplomatic solution is found.
"We haven't reached agreement in advance with Russia and China — that remains very difficult. I don't know if it will be possible to do so. In the interest of saving thousands of lives of our international responsibilities, we will try to do so," Hague told reporters. "It's been always been our view, of course, that a stable future for Syria, a real political process, means Assad leaving power."
The head of the struggling U.N. observer mission, Norwegian Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, has described the 300 monitors approved by the U.N. Security Council to enforce a failed April cease-fire as being largely confined to bureaucratic tasks and calling Syrians by phone because of the dangers on the ground. Their mandate expires July 20.
"Ultimately, we want to stop the bloodshed in Syria. If that comes through political dialogue, we are willing to do that," said Khalid Saleh, a spokesman for the Syrian National Council, a coalition of Syrian opposition groups based in Istanbul, Turkey. "We are not willing to negotiate (with) Mr. Assad and those who have murdered Syrians. We are not going to negotiate unless they leave Syria."