Kofi Annan held talks with Iran’s foreign minister yesterday, as he sought the help of Damascus’ staunch ally in ending the 16-month conflict in Syria, a day after meeting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The UN and Arab League peace envoy underlined Tehran’s importance in international efforts to stem the bloodshed, following talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi.
“Iran can play a positive role,” Annan said, adding he would continue to work with the Iranian leadership to resolve the crisis, which monitors say has cost more than 17,000 lives.
“There is a risk that the situation in Syrian gets out of hand and spreads to the region,” Annan told a joint news conference with Salehi, who hailed Annan’s “neutrality.”
A day earlier, the former UN secretary-general had announced a new political “approach” in a bid to resolve the crisis in Syria, where deadly violence shows no sign no abating.
At least 98 people were killed nationwide on Monday, including 34 soldiers, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, almost doubling an earlier toll of 55.
World powers meeting in Geneva last month agreed a plan for a political transition in Syria which did not make an explicit call for al-Assad to quit, although the West and the opposition made clear it saw no role for him in a unity government.
Russia yesterday said that it wanted to host a new meeting of foreign powers concerning the Syria crisis, but stressed that the talks should not decide the fate of al-Assad.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov also said the attempt in Geneva to save Annan’s tattered peace plan needed to be continued with the involvement countries such as Iran — something strongly opposed by both Washington and European powers.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has accused the US and its allies of opposing Assad’s regime with the goal of dominating the Middle East and propping up Israel.
Meanwhile, the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) said its priority was to “work for the fall of the Assad regime and all its symbols,” insisting there could be no political transition until the embattled president’s departure.
Earlier the SNC had slammed Annan’s decision to meet Assad, saying thousands of people have been killed despite an April ceasefire.
The opposition coalition’s new leader Abdel Basset Sayda is due to travel to Moscow today at the invitation of the Russian foreign ministry, the SNC said.
The diplomatic efforts were taking place against the increasingly familiar backdrop of bloodshed in Syria, where eight people were killed early yesterday, including four army soldiers, two rebels and two civilians, according to the Observatory.