In his first intervention after becoming the special envoy on Syria for the United Nations and the Arab League, Kofi Annan has made it clear that instead of further militarisation, he is looking for a political solution to defuse the crisis in Syria, based on dialogue.

Steering far clear of language calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, Mr. Annan said at a press conference in Cairo on Friday that “ultimately the solution [in Syria] lies in a political settlement”. Adopting an even-handed approach, Mr. Annan, a former U.N. Secretary-General, said he would urge the Syrian government and the opposition to “come together to work with us to find a solution that will respect the aspirations of Syrian people”. He also said that further militarisation would make the situation worse. “No one is thinking very seriously of using force in the situation,” he observed.

In calling for an engagement both with the opposition and the government, Mr. Annan's approach in seeking to defuse the crisis was widely divergent from the stated position of the Arab League. The League has demanded that the situation in Syria can turnaround after Mr. Assad steps down and a national unity government led by the Vice-President is formed to steer the country's political transition.

While it is difficult to gauge whether the League's position on Syria is beginning to shift fundamentally, the language used by the Arab League Chief, Nabil Elaraby, who also addressed the media on Friday with Mr. Annan, was, nevertheless, far more conciliatory. “No one wants a repetition of the Libyan scenario. We only want to find a solution with the opposition and the government,” said Mr. Elaraby.

“We are hoping that when he [Mr. Annan] goes to Syria on Saturday, it will really be groundbreaking and that he will be able to get the breakthrough that we all hope,” said Mr. Elaraby.

The special envoy is scheduled to visit Damascus on Saturday after attending the meeting of Arab Foreign Ministers in Cairo. Mr. Elaraby insisted it was urgent to provide humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people and, significantly, to “start a political process that will lead to the realisation of what the Syrian people would like to have”.

Predictably, sections of the Syrian opposition advocating the use of force to remove Mr. Assad have slammed Mr. Annan's remarks. Burhan Ghalioun, the leader of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC), said Mr. Annan's observations were “disappointing” when Syrians were being “massacred every day”.

In further bad news for the opposition and its Western backed Arab supporters, Russia has made it clear that it would not support a new U.N. draft on Syria, which was in the works, in its present form.