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U.N. envoy Kofi Annan in Iran for Syria talks

The visit comes on the heels of talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad. It is unclear whether the trip signals a role for Iran in resolving Syria's crisis.

July 09, 2012|By Ramin Mostaghim and Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times
  • A Syrian rebel is seen near an army tank in Jarjanaz, in restive Idlib province, in a photo released by the opposition Shaam News Network.
A Syrian rebel is seen near an army tank in Jarjanaz, in restive Idlib province,… (Shaam News Network )

TEHRAN — United Nations special envoy Kofi Annan was expected to meet with top Iranian officials Tuesday in the latest diplomatic offensive aimed at salvaging his faltering six-point peace plan to avert all-out civil war in Syria.

It was unclear whether Annan's visit here — immediately after his talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus — was a pro forma diplomatic gesture or signaled some new role for Iran in resolving the Syrian crisis.

Iran has been a staunch ally of Assad and has forcefully supported the Syrian president's assertions that the rebellion is a terrorist conspiracy hatched by the West and its Arab allies.

In a statement, Annan said he had come to Iran "to see how we can work together to help settle the situation in Syria."

The trip suggests that Annan is eager to have Tehran on board for any possible peace deal or transitional governing plan that may emerge for Syria. He has said repeatedly that Iran is an important regional power and should be involved in a resolution of the Syrian crisis.

But the Iranian leadership has given no public sign of being willing to jettison Assad. Syria is part of what Iran lauds as the "axis of resistance" against the United States and its allies. The Syrian government is widely reported to have helped facilitate weapons transfers to Iran's strategic ally, Hezbollah, the Lebanese-based militant group.

Syrian opposition groups have voiced considerable hostility toward both Iran and Hezbollah as supporters of Assad. And U.S. officials have looked askance at any Iranian involvement in international efforts to resolve the situation in Syria.

At the insistence of the U.S., Iran was left off the guest list of Annan's multinational "action group" meeting on Syria in Geneva late last month.

Participating nations in the Geneva session approved a communique outlining broad parameters for a "transitional" government that would, in theory, lead to greater democracy in Syria, where the Assad family has ruled for more than four decades.

Washington and its allies insist that Assad must go as part of any U.N.-approved transition governing plan for Syria. But Russia and China, which wield veto power in the U.N. Security Council, have refused to make Assad's departure a condition of any deal. Iran has publicly hewed to that position as well.

Russia asserts that it is not tied to Assad's continued rule but that the decision lies with the "Syrian people." Moscow this week is hosting meetings with various groups fighting Assad, including members of the Syrian National Council, the best-known opposition coalition.

In Iran, Annan is expected to hold talks Tuesday with Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi. It was not known whether he would also meet with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The former U.N. chief arrived here Monday after what he termed "a very candid and constructive" discussion with Assad in the Syrian capital.

In a statement, Annan said he and Assad "agreed on an approach" to help end the violence in Syria. The veteran diplomat did not elaborate, and it was unclear whether he regarded the meeting as some kind of a breakthrough in long-stalled peace efforts.

Annan did say he planned to share details with the "armed opposition," a reference to the many rebel militias fighting to oust Assad.

Annan said he "stressed the importance of moving ahead with a political dialogue, which the president accepts." It was unclear what type of dialogue he referred to. Assad refers to the rebels as "terrorists." And the rebels generally condemn Assad as a murderer.

The mutual animosity has made the prospects for meaningful dialogue very difficult after nearly 16 months of bloodshed.

Annan's stop in Damascus marked his third visit to strife-torn Syria. His peace plan calls for a truce, a withdrawal of troops from populated areas and a start toward some kind of a political resolution. Both sides have violated the terms of the cease-fire, which never took hold after being declared almost three months ago.

Violence has escalated in recent weeks and human rights monitors have voiced fears that the bloodshed is becoming increasingly sectarian in nature. The U.N. says the Syrian conflict has cost more than 10,000 lives since it began in March 2011.

patrick.mcdonnell@latimes.com

Special correspondent Mostaghim reported from Tehran and Times staff writer McDonnell from Beirut. Special correspondent Alexandra Sandels in Beirut contributed to this report.

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