Iran must be involved in solving Syria crisis, insists UN's Annan
UN peace envoy Kofi Annan waded into big power politics yesterday, insisting Iran should be involved in efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Syria crisis despite the West's firm rejection of a role for Tehran.
The United States and its NATO and Gulf Arab allies are opposed to involving Iran, which strongly backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and is regarded as their main adversary in the Middle East.
"Iran has a role to play. And my presence here explains that I believe in that," Mr Annan said after talks in Tehran with Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi.
"I have received encouragement and co-operation with the minister and the (Iranian) government," he said.
Mr Annan said Iran had made clear that if the crisis got "out of hand and spread to the region, it could lead to consequences that none of us can imagine".
Russia, which along with China opposes any external move to tip the balance against Mr Assad, has said Iran should be involved.
Moscow yesterday suggested hosting regular meetings of an "action group", which would include the Syrian opposition.
Following talks in Damascus on Monday, Mr Annan said Mr Assad had suggested ending Syria's conflict on a step-by-step basis, starting with districts that have suffered the worst violence.
Mr Annan is striving to revive his moribund plan for ending Syria's 16-month-old uprising in which rebels are fighting to topple the authoritarian regime.
An activist group tracking the violence said that more than 17,000 people have been killed, including 4,380 soldiers and police. At least 100 more were killed on Monday.
After his talks in Tehran, Mr Annan met Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad. Mr Assad and Mr Maliki both have close relations with Iran, a Shi'ite Muslim power vying with Sunni Gulf Arab states for more regional influence.
Mr Annan said the first attempt to call a truce on April 12 failed. He underlined the risk of the conflict "spilling over" to neighbouring states and noted that the mandate of UN monitors in Syria expires on July 21.
Mr Annan, who returns to New York today, is expected to brief the UN Security Council later in the evening.