Faint outlines of an end-game in Syria seemed to be emerging on Thursday with Russia playing the lead role in steering diplomacy that has gathered pace after a military solution appeared more unlikely than ever.
Having spent quality time in Damascus in the last five days, Lakhdar Brahimi, the U. N. and Arab League envoy, on Thursday reinforced the merits of the Geneva accord — the result of deliberations between his predecessor Kofi Annan and the global powers — to resolve the crisis.
The Geneva pact focuses on the formation of a transitional government without demanding the exit of President Bashar al-Assad.
Russia has been consistently advocating the enforcement of the Geneva plan that has evoked a tepid response from the U.S., which repeatedly demanded that Mr. Assad should step down.
However, a report in the French daily Le Figaro — having all the likely trappings of a trial balloon — says a joint U.S.-Russia plan has emerged, which is the result of a major compromise from both sides.
It said the plan would allow Mr. Assad to stay in power only until 2014 — when his term expires.
During a media interaction in Damascus, Mr. Brahimi spoke persuasively about the need to establish a transitional government, which could stay in power until elections are held.
“We need to form a government with all powers... which assumes power during a period of transition. That transition period will end with elections”, said Mr. Brahimi.
He stressed that the transition period should avert the “collapse of the state and its institutions”.
But the U.N. envoy also made it plain that he had not brought with him to Damascus, the so-called joint US-Russia plan. In his denial, Mr. Brahimi clarified that he had only “proposed” and “wished” for an agreement between the Americans and Russians.
With the wheels of the diplomacy turning fast, Mr. Brahimi now heads for Moscow, which has become the crucible for generating, discussing or fine-tuning fresh ideas.
Russia is already hosting other important players who can shape events, including Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Miqdad, who held talks on Thursday with Sergei Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich described the meeting “a part of the efforts we are undertaking to encourage dialogue not just with the government but all opposition forces”.
Moscow also categorically denied the existence of the U.S.-Russia plan, stressing instead its commitment to the Geneva plan that promotes an intra-Syrian dialogue. Mohamed Amr, Egyptian Foreign Minister, will be another important visitor to Russia who would hold talks with his Russian counterpart on Friday.
Refusing to be outpaced by the fast-paced diplomacy steered by Moscow, Iran has remained firmly plugged into efforts to resolve the crisis. Iran’s Ambassador to Syria, Mohammad-Reza Raouf-Sheibani, met in Damascus Mr. Brahimi, where Iran’s own six-point plan was discussed.
Iran’s Press TV reported that Mr. Brahimi will shortly visit Iran as part of his regional tour. Separately in Tehran, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi announced he would brief Ambassadors posted in his country about the its peace plan.
Mr. Salehi said foreign powers would not be allowed to decide Syria’s fate. He hoped that a transitional government would soon be formed on the basis of an internal dialogue.