Russia, West tussle at Syria peace talks

 Russia and Western powers locked horns over a peace plan for Syria on Saturday as UN mediator Kofi Annan warned the conflict could spread across the West Asia and beyond.

Foreign ministers and international diplomats were meeting in Geneva with governments still in dispute over whether Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, condemned in the West but still backed by Russia, could have any role in a political transition.

“The Russians have set out a series of objections with the current draft. The Russians are stonewalling quite a bit,” a Western diplomat told Reuters as the talks paused for lunch.
“A redraft of the text is looking likely,” she said, referring to Annan’s draft proposal.

Annan, the former UN chief and the special international envoy on Syria, is hoping for consensus on a plan for a unity government that would exclude controversial figures from leadership — effectively meaning Assad would step down.

“We are here to agree on guidelines and principles for a Syrian-led political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people,” he said in opening remarks.
“No one should be in any doubt as to the extreme dangers posed by the conflict — to Syrians, to the region, and to the world.”

His appeal gave a note of urgency to the need for world powers to move closer in their positions as the 16-month-old conflict in Syria deepens. His plan for a negotiated solution is the only one on the table.

Moscow objects to any solution imposed on Syria from outside. The United States and its European and Arab allies see no way ahead while power remains in Assad’s hands.

As the diplomats gathered at the UN complex by the shores of Lake Geneva, the Syrian army rained mortar fire on pro-opposition areas in Deir al-Zor, Homs, Idlib and the outskirts of Damascus, opposition activists said.

Government troops were fighting rebels of the Free Syria Army in several places. Syrias border with Turkey was also tense following a Turkish military build-up in response to Syrias shooting down of a Turkish warplane last week.

More than 10,000 people have been killed since the anti-Assad uprising broke out and the past few weeks have been among the bloodiest.

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