Syrian envoy calls for political change
The international envoy seeking a solution to Syria's 21-month-old conflict said today political change was needed to end the violence which has killed 44,000 people, and called for a transitional government to rule until elections.
Speaking in Damascus at the end of a five-day trip during which he met president Bashar al-Assad, Lakhdar Brahimi did not spell out detailed proposals but said that only substantial change would meet the demands of ordinary Syrians.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov added to the envoy's call for a peaceful solution when he told a senior Syrian diplomat that only a "broad inter-Syria dialogue and political process" could end the crisis.
Mr Brahimi's push for a transitional government suggested he was trying to build on an international agreement in Geneva six months ago which said a provisional body - which might include members of Assad's government as well as the opposition - should lead the country into a new election.
But the mainly Sunni Muslim Syrian rebels have seized the military initiative since the Geneva meeting in June and the political opposition has ruled out any transitional government in which Dr Assad, from Syria's Alawite minority, plays a role.
Rebel fighters resumed attacks on Thursday against the military base of Wadi Deif, which lies next to Syria's main north-south highway linking Aleppo with Damascus. Around the capital itself, Dr Assad's forces have tried for weeks to dislodge rebels from suburbs which ring the east and south of the city.
"Certainly it was clear in Geneva, and it's even clearer now that the change which is needed is not cosmetic or superficial," Mr Brahimi told a news conference in Damascus before leaving Syria.
"I believe the Syrian people need, want and aspire to genuine change and everyone knows what this means," he said.
"A government must be created ... with all the powers of the state," Brahimi added. He said it should hold power for a transitional period until elections - either for a new president or a new parliament - are held.
"This transitional process must not lead to the ... collapse of state institutions. All Syrians, and those who support them, must cooperate to preserve those institutions and strengthen them," he said.
Radwan Ziadeh of the opposition Syrian National Council dismissed Mr Brahimi's proposal as "unrealistic and fanciful" and said a transitional government could not be built on the same "security and intelligence structure as the existing regime".
Mr Lavrov met Syrian deputy foreign minister Faisal Makdad in Moscow today and underscored "the lack of an alternative to a peaceful resolution of (Syria's) internal conflict through a broad inter-Syria dialogue and political process," a Russian foreign ministry statement said. But it made no mention of ways to achieve those goals.
Syrian and Lebanese sources said Mr Makdad had been sent to Moscow to discuss details of a peace plan proposed by Mr Brahimi.
Mr Brahimi is due in Moscow on Saturday and said he also expected to have a third joint meeting with US and Russian officials soon following two rounds of talks earlier this month. But he denied the existence of a US-Russian plan to end the crisis and said it was too soon to present a "complete plan".