New Syria peace proposal as Russia halts arms sales
KOFI Annan claimed to have found a way of reviving his Syria peace plan yesterday, after he pressed President Bashar al-Assad to establish a unity government with the opposition.
The potential breakthrough came as Mr Assad found himself under pressure from an unexpected quarter after Russia announced a halt in arms sales to Syria, its biggest Middle East customer.
In a significant policy shift, a senior Russian official said Moscow would enter into no new arms agreements with the Assad regime. An outstanding shipment of 36 Yak-130 fighter jets was the first victim of the announcement.
Mr Annan, the UN and Arab League special envoy to Syria, said he would present a new proposal to end the fighting to the opposition this week after its terms were accepted by the president during a meeting in Damascus.
"We discussed the need to end the violence and ways and means of doing so," Mr Annan said.
With an average daily death toll of 100 in Syria in recent weeks, Mr Annan has conceded that a ceasefire proposal he drafted in April is "failing".
He refused to disclose the specifics of his agreement with Mr Assad. But a Syrian state newspaper reported the two men had discussed an international initiative proposing that the government and opposition share power in a transitional government.
Western powers were blocked by Russia from demanding Mr Assad be excluded from such an administration, although they insisted the agreement implied he should step down and go into exile.
But in an interview with a German television station, Mr Assad declared he was not going anywhere, claiming that the love and support of his people sustained him in office and helped him withstand pressure from his Western adversaries.
Mr Assad even claimed that the 108 people killed in the Houla massacre in May were in fact his supporters. Rebels had worn army uniforms to carry out the killings, during which 49 children died, in order to pin the blame on his forces, he told the ARD network.
Accusing the West of "partnering" with terrorists, he claimed the vast majority of Syrians still supported him.
However, the opposition has adamantly refused to sit in any administration that includes the Syrian leader and it is unclear how the UN envoy hopes to get around this.
Opposition leaders, who are holding meetings with Kremlin officials this week, will nonetheless hope Russia's announcement could signal the beginning of a behind-the-scenes drive to ease Mr Assad from office.
By effectively suspending the lucrative defence relationship, Moscow has less incentive to maintain its political support for Mr Assad. (© Daily Telegraph, London)