Annan holds 'constructive' talks with Assad on ending violence


IN DAMASCUS to revive his six-point peace plan, UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan said yesterday that he had “candid and constructive talks” with President Bashar al-Assad.

“We discussed the need to end the violence and the ways and means of doing so. We agreed on an approach which I will share with the armed opposition.” He said his team on the ground would assume this task.

“I . . . encourage governments and other entities with influence to [make] a similar effort” with the rebels, he said, hinting that the US and its western allies, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar should press the rebel Free Syrian Army to agree to a ceasefire.

Mr Annan also stated that Dr Assad “accepts” the need to move forward with political dialogue although the rebels and external opposition reject any contacts with Dr Assad.

In an interview with German television station ARD, Dr Assad said that Mr Annan’s plan has not failed but it has not been implemented because the US and other countries are supporting “terrorists . . . with weapons, money or public and political support at the United Nations . . . to destabilise Syria”. He rejected accusations that his security forces were guilty of violence against civilians and said that “supporters of the government [and] victims from the security [forces] and the army” outnumbered opponents and innocent civilians.

He argued that the armed opposition is made up of “a mixture, an amalgam of al-Qaeda [and] other extremists.”

When asked if the government would negotiate with the rebels, he said, “Yes, we have already done this and offered them amnesty. Some of them are now living totally normal lives, with no problem whatsoever.”

Dr Assad said that he enjoys the support of the Syrian people and ruled out resignation. “The US [is] against me, the West is against me, numerous regional powers are against me; if the people were also against me, then how could I still be in my position?” he asked.

“The president shouldn’t run away from challenge and we have a national challenge now in Syria,” he said, dismissing any compari- son of his situation to the conditions faced by the ousted Egyptian and Libyan leaders.

He vowed to stand up to foreign intervention, “Whether you’re prepared or not, you’ve got to defend your country.” His remarks coincided with extensive military exercises by the Syrian armed forces.

Meanwhile, leading opposition figures are taking the road to Moscow for talks with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov.

Yesterday, he met Michel Kilo, veteran regime opponent, and tomorrow he is set to hold discussions with Abdel Basset Sieda, head of the expatriate Syrian National Council, the umbrella group supported by the West.

“Russia is one of the few, if not the only country which is working actively with the Syrian government and different opposition forces for the implementation of the Kofi Annan plan,” said Mr Lavrov.