GENEVA – The United States, Russia and other world leaders have agreed on a plan for a transitional government of national unity in Syria that they hope will pave the way for an end to the violence that has killed more than 15,000 people during the 16-month uprising. The plan, drafted by International Envoy Kofi Annan, lays out a number of steps that, if followed, could lead to the Syrian people democratically determining their own future. But it also leaves open the question of whether Syrian President Bashar al-Assad can be part of the transitional government. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from the site of the ministerial meeting in Geneva.
Introducing the plan, Annan said he hopes it will launch a Syrian-led political process that ultimately will enable the Syrian people to democratically determine their own future.
The plan grants full executive powers to the transitional governing body. Both members of the government and opposition are to be included in the body. Annan says the Action Group has drawn up guidelines, which are meant to be helpful to the Syrian people.
He said it is for the Syrians, themselves, not the international community, to determine the future of the country. When given the opportunity, he says he believes the Syrian people will choose their leader wisely.
“I think people who have blood on their hands hopefully are not the only people in Syria. I think the Government will have to be formed through discussion, negotiations, and by mutual consent. And I will doubt that the Syrians - who have fought so hard for their independence, to be able to have a say in how they are governed and who governs them - will select people with blood on their hands to lead them.”
The plan does not mention Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by name nor indicate what, if any, role he will have to play in the new national government of unity. This verbal compromise deftly avoided a showdown between the United States and Russia, who do not see eye to eye as to whether Assad should remain in power.
Despite this, U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, said the change in the revised text will make no difference.
“Assad will still have to go," Clinton insisted. "He will never pass the mutual consent test given the blood on his hands. The text also makes clear that the power to govern is vested fully in the transitional governing body, which strips him and his regime of all authority if he and they refuse to step down and leave.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called the meeting very important and useful. He said he did not come to Geneva to rubber stamp a document, but to achieve an agreement that would be acceptable to all.
“We consider it to be of key importance that there is no attempt in the document to impose upon the Syrian side any kind of transitional process," Lavrov said. "It is very clearly stated in the document that it is a Syrian led transition. We have achieved a situation where there are no prior pre-conditions to the transitional process and the national dialogue and that there is no attempt to exclude any kind of group from this process.”
The Syrian opposition has made it clear they want no part of a government if Assad is still in power.
Kofi Annan said the Action Group will use its influence to pressure the various Syrian parties to move the transitional process along. He said the Group will continue to meet and will be ready to gather if an emergency arises.
He added that no timetable has been set for the establishment of the transitional government, but he hopes to see progress within a year.