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World Leaders to Meet on Syria Crisis

  • Margaret Besheer

Kofi Annan, the U.N.- Arab League Joint Special Envoy for Syria, June 1, 2012.

Kofi Annan, the U.N.- Arab League Joint Special Envoy for Syria, June 1, 2012.

UNITED NATIONS - Kofi Annan, the United Nations and Arab League mediator for Syria, announced Wednesday that he will convene an international meeting in Geneva on Saturday to move the Syrian political transition forward and stop the violence that has killed more than 10,000 people.

Kofi Annan said in a statement that he has invited the foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States - as well as the U.N. Secretary-General, the head of the Arab League, the foreign minister of Turkey, and the foreign ministers of Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar in their capacities as heads of regional organizations.

Saudi Arabia and Iran were missing from the list of invitees, leading to speculation that they were left off in a bid to win Russian and U.S. support and attendance at the meeting.

U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters that Kofi Annan made the invitations and that Washington is comfortable with Iran not being invited.

"We are comfortable with it," said Nuland. "We had made strong representations, the Secretary [of State Hillary Clinton] had, throughout these discussions about Iran and our view that Iran was not playing a constructive role. But we are comfortable with the collection of actors that the joint special envoy has chosen to invite."

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Moscow wanted both countries at the meeting, adding that their absence did not mean they would not have a role to play.

“The fact that, I think, Iran and Saudi Arabia are not going to be in Geneva does not mean that they are out of the picture all together," said Churkin. "Their influence is there anyway, so you have to factor that in and reckon with it.”

Iran’s U.N. ambassador, Mohammad Khazaee, did not appear bothered that his country had not been invited, telling reporters that Tehran supports Kofi Annan’s six-point plan.

“So if some powers do not want to benefit from this [Iran’s] influence and constructive role that is their problem," said Khazaee. "This is another indication of actually neglecting the realities on the ground. In my view, the solution for [the] Syrian crisis is the cooperation among everybody, especially the major players in the region, based on a fair approach on the issue.”

Kofi Annan said the objective of Saturday’s meeting is to identify steps and measures to fully implement his six-point plan, which is struggling to remain viable despite the full backing of the U.N. Security Council and other international players, but has received little concrete support from the Syrian government and the country's main opposition groups.

He said his so-called “Action Group” on Syria should also try to agree on a set of guidelines and principles for a Syrian-led political transition that is in line with the aspirations of the Syrian people, and more critically, to agree on concrete actions to implement objectives.

Diplomats were not sharing many specifics about the plan, except to say that the concept of a political transition has always been part of Kofi Annan’s six-point plan.

In Washington, the State Department's Victoria Nuland said the United States likes and accepts the plan and hopes the Geneva meeting will fully endorse it.

"We are comfortable enough with where we are that we think the meeting can be a success on Saturday," she said.

The crisis in Syria has been deteriorating rapidly, with the 300 unarmed U.N. observers having to suspend their mission because of the surge in violence in recent weeks. On Tuesday Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said his country is in “a state of war” after armed opponents of his government attacked a military base in the capital not far from the presidential palace.
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