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Updated: April 12, 2012 03:49 IST

Annan still hopeful about a Syria ceasefire

  • Atul Aneja
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In this photo released by the semi-official Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), International envoy Kofi Annan shakes hands with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, at the beginning of their meeting on the Iranian island of Qeshm on Wednesday.
In this photo released by the semi-official Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), International envoy Kofi Annan shakes hands with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, at the beginning of their meeting on the Iranian island of Qeshm on Wednesday.

Says Iran can help end the violence

Kofi Annan, U.N. and Arab League's envoy has expressed cautious optimism about implanting a ceasefire in Syria during his visit to Iran, a key ally of Damascus, which can play a game-changing role.

As he tirelessly soldiered on to advance his mission, Mr. Annan, arriving in Tehran from Turkey, acknowledged the positive influence that Iran could impart to cap violence in Syria. “Iran, given its special relations with Syria, can be part of the solution,” Mr. Annan observed.

However, it was an open question whether Iran wished blend its well-known defence of the Syrian government, with discreet pressure on Damascus to urgently cooperate with Mr. Annan's plan.

Iran's stand

Mr. Ali Akbar Salehi, U.N. envoy's host, gave little away to suggest that Tehran was fine-tuning its position. Speaking alongside Mr. Annan, Mr. Salehi reiterated that Iran was open to reforms, but rejected “regime change” in Syria. “The opportunity must be given to the Syrian government to make changes under the leadership of Bashar al-Assad,” said Mr. Salehi.

Basing his comments on a renewed pledge by Damascus to reign in violence, Mr. Annan said he was moderately hopeful that the elevated level of violence might taper by daybreak on Thursday. “I have received government assurances they will respect the cease-fire,” he said. “If everyone respects, I think by six o'clock on Thursday the 12th — six o'clock in the morning on Thursday the 12th — we should see a much improved situation on the ground.”

‘Disastrous for region'

Once again, Mr. Annan emphasised that the continuation of bloodletting in Syria would be catastrophic. “The geopolitical location of Syria is such that any miscalculation and error can have unimaginable consequences,” he said, alluding to the possible permeation of instability from Syria to the bordering nations of Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and Iraq.

“I have always said the further militarisation of the conflict will be disastrous,” said Mr. Annan — an assertion that seemed to reject the call by some countries that the Syrian opposition should be openly armed.

Mr. Annan's exhortations for peace seemed to resonate ever more sharply, as there were worrisome signs on Wednesday that government forces were still using heavy fire power in certain urban areas, including Homs. In a letter to the Security Council earlier, Mr. Annan noted that over the past five days, the Syrian regime had not abided by his plan to pull out forces from major urban locations. The U.N. envoy's plan, aired previously, had called for the withdrawal of Syrian forces by April 10, with a ceasefire fully in place 48 hours later, after the armed opposition reciprocated accordingly.

Russian criticism

Analysts point out that in case a fledgling ceasefire does not emerge on Thursday, Russia, one of the chief backers of the Syrian regime, would come under sharp international focus. Without Moscow's backing, the Security Council would remain powerless to take stronger actions against the Syrian regime.

On Tuesday, the Russians mildly criticised the Syrian government for not being “more active and more decisive” in dealing with the situation. However, they chiefly blamed the opposition, and their western backers, for the sustained spiral in violence. “The U.S. and other countries, which have pretty direct access to Syrian opposition groups, would do better not to constantly blame Russia and China, but to use their levers in order to honestly force everyone to stop shooting each other,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, who jointly addressed a press conference in Moscow on Tuesday with his Russian counterpart, hinted that Damascus maybe willing to soften its previous core demand on the opposition. On Sunday, the Syrian government had demanded written guarantees from the Syrian opposition that it would disarm, as a precondition for the pullout of government forces from the country's cities and towns.

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