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 Geneva deal was forged amid deep divisions between Western and Arab countries and China and Russia on how to end the violence. Russia and China joined the United States Saturday in calling for a transitional government to replace the Bashar al-Assad`s regime in Syria, a major shift after a bloody conflict in which Syrian regime has used the army and police to fight a pro-democracy uprising.
It suggested a significant move for Russia, which has backed President al-Assad and his late father, Hafez, for 40 years.
Earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin joined President Barack Obama in a joint call for Syrians to democratically choose their own government, but stopped short of joining the call for Assad's ouster. The question remained over how Moscow would implement the new policy.
The U.S. backed away from insisting that the plan explicitly exclude President Bashar al-Assad from any role in a new Syrian government; U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it is now “incumbent on Russia and China to show Assad the writing on the wall.''
US hoping the concession would encourage Russia to put greater pressure on its longtime ally to end the violent crackdown that the opposition says has claimed over 14,000 lives.
Moscow and Beijing had refused to back a provision that would call for Mr. Assad to step aside, with Russia insisting that outsiders cannot order a political solution for Syria.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the plan does not require the Syrian president leave power, saying there is “no attempt in the document to impose on the Syrian people any type of transitional process.''
At Russian insistence, the wording of the final communique did not explicitly call for Assad's ouster but instead said the new government "shall be formed on the basis of mutual consent."
It appeared to amount to the same thing. "The government will have to re-form by discussion, negotiation and by mutual consent, and I will doubt that the Syrians who have fought so hard for their independence, and to be able to have a say in how they are governed and who will govern, will select people with blood on their hands to lead them," Annan said.
The wording of a final communique from the meeting calls for “clear and irreversible” steps toward a political transition. It says a transitional body must be formed through “mutual consent,” and could include current members of government.
Earlier in the meeting on Saturday, Annan warned the participants – the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and envoys from Arab countries – that if they failed to act, they could face an international crisis of “grave severity.''
Annan declared at the start of the meeting that the stakes were extremely high. Calling for "joint action to finally deal with the dire situation in Syria," he said "We should never have even reached this point." He said two U.N. Security Council resolutions and his own six-point plan for ending the fighting had not been implemented.
Annan, appointed joint special envoy by the United Nations and the Arab League, has been laboring since February to bring peace to Syria through a six-point plan that has widely been regarded as a failure. As of Saturday, he can call on an "action group," consisting of the countries taking part in the Geneva talks, to back him up when his mediation effort hits an obstacle.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had rejected any outside advice in advance of the Geneva talks. "We will not accept any non-Syrian, non-national model, whether it comes from big countries or friendly countries," he said in an interview with Iranian news media.
"No one knows how to solve Syria's problems as well as we do." He went on to pledge to "annihilate terrorists in any corner of the country."
Annan said the situation was changing rapidly in Syria, an allusion to the fact that rebel forces had made major gains in territory.
Turkish officials estimate that rebels control 50 percent to 60 percent of the land, an astonishing accomplishment considering that they have been fighting with mostly small arms and home-made bombs against tanks and attack helicopters.
"In these sorts of situations, leaders say things today that are completely different tomorrow," Annan told reporters.
"I expect the Syrian parties to cooperate. I expect them to understand the gravity of the situation. I expect them to understand that the strong transformational wind that is blowing today cannot be resisted. At least it cannot be resisted for long," he added.