Kofi Annan, special envoy of the U.N. Secretary-General, has met embattled Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, bringing into sharper focus two opposing lines for resolving the Syrian crisis — one that wants the Syrian President to step down first, and another that calls for an inclusive national dialogue, without seeking Mr. Assad's departure.
Mr. Annan has opposed militarisation of the conflict, and in Cairo on Friday, he called for a political solution, based on dialogue.
Before he left for Damascus, Mr. Annan's call was generously supported by visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. During his meeting in Cairo on Friday with Mr. Annan, Mr. Lavrov hoped that the U.N. envoy's mission “would be successfully realised in line with the mandate he has been given,” said a Russian Foreign Ministry statement.
Mr. Lavrov explained that Russia was seeking an “immediate end to violence in that country and a long term solution to a civil conflict through a wide national dialogue”. The statement signalled that the two — Mr. Lavrov and Mr. Annan — had bonded well, as the U.N. envoy called for Russia's “active cooperation” for resolving the Syrian crisis.
The ongoing international diplomacy, despite Mr. Annan's nascent exertions, still appeared to be working at cross purposes, with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the most vocal exponents for a change of guard, clashing openly with the Russian line.
Far from advocating an immediate ceasefire, the Qataris said during the Arab League foreign ministerial meeting in Cairo, which Mr. Lavrov attended, that the Arab and international forces had a “moral and international obligation” to intervene in Syria. Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Saud Al Faisal accused Russia and China of encouraging the Syrian regime to persist with its “brutality,” by vetoing a recent resolution at the Security Council. A Russian diplomat said earlier this week Mr. Assad was grimly battling al-Qaeda-backed militants, including 15,000 foreign fighters, who would be ready to seize cities in case government forces withdrew.
Despite Mr. Annan's call for a ceasefire, as a precursor to a political dialogue, there were little signs that violence was winding down anytime soon. On Saturday, opposition groups said Syrian forces, which had recently overrun trouble torn Homs, were now attacking Idlib, a city on the border with Turkey. The state-run news agency SANA reported that during his two-hour dialogue with Mr. Annan, the Syrian President stressed that, “No political dialogue or political activity can succeed while there are armed terrorist groups operating and spreading chaos and instability.”
In their confabulations on working out a ceasefire, the western powers apparently want that the government should take the lead in halting the violence, which the opposition could follow. On Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, while elaborating on Mr. Annan's mandate, adopted a somewhat more flexible position. He said if there was no agreement on a simultaneous ceasefire, the troops should stop first, followed by the opposition. On the contrary, the Russians have been insisting that the government and the opposition should call for a truce simultaneously. The Security Council is set to begin a high-profile debate in New York on Monday, where Mr. Lavrov is expected to meet his U.S. counterpart Hillary Clinton.