Annan Seeks Iran’s Support to Solve 16-Month Syria Crisis

United Nations envoy Kofi Annan sought Iran’s help in resolving the Syria crisis as opponents of President Bashar al-Assad called on Russia to play a positive role in a power transfer in the Middle Eastern country.

Annan met Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi and the country’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, in the Iranian capital Tehran today before leaving for Baghdad. “Iran has a role to play and my presence here explains that I believe in that,” Annan told journalists after his meeting with Salehi.

Salehi made it clear that if no real effort is made to resolve the crisis peacefully and if it were to get out of hand and spread around the region, it “would lead to consequences that none of us can imagine,” Annan said.

Iran has stood by the government in Syria, the Persian Gulf nation’s closest Arab ally, since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011. Syria’s main opposition group, the Syrian National Council, has rejected Annan’s call for Iran’s involvement, describing the government as an accomplice in Assad’s aggression. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on June 22 that while the U.S. agrees with “the general point that Iran should be part of the solution,” it disapproves of its “destructive role” as a backer of Assad.

The international community disagrees on the strategy needed to persuade Assad, whose family has held power for four decades, to leave.

Russian Warships

Russia, which has shielded Assad from censure even as the U.S. and other Western countries advocated stronger UN action, dispatched four warships from its Northern Fleet to Syria today. The ships, which departed from the Arctic port of Severomorsk, will be joined by other Russian naval vessels, Interfax reported, citing an unidentified official. They will dock at a naval resupply base in the port of Tartus, the news agency said.

Annan said Assad yesterday suggested a solution to end the crisis that involves trying to contain the violence in districts where clashes are particularly extreme and “step by step, build up and end the violence across the country.”

In Russia, Bassma Kodmani, a member of the Syrian National Council, said Assad’s opponents want the UN to mediate transition talks with Syria’s government once violence in the country ends.

Third Party

“We think it’s going to be difficult to have a bilateral process,” she told reporters in Moscow today amid talks by a delegation of the country’s leading alliance of opposition groups with Russian officials. “We think there’s a need for a third party to be the facilitator, the mediator. Ideally, we think the UN is a legitimate and normal partner.”

An immediate cease-fire and a troop pullout from urban centers must precede any talks, Kodmani said, adding that the opposition wants Russia to play a “positive role” in a handover of power in Syria.

The violence has claimed more than 17,000 lives, according to Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The casualties include 4,348 members of Assad’s security forces, he said. The Syrian government has released 275 people detained “in recent events whose hands aren’t covered with Syrians’ blood,” state-run Syrian TV said today, adding it’s the seventh batch of detainees to be released.

Syria’s Cabinet also approved creating 25,000 jobs across the country this year, the state-run Sana news agency reported today.

Jordan has decided to set up emergency camps to accommodate Syrian refugees pouring into the kingdom, Petra news agency said yesterday. More than 130,000 Syrian have fled their homeland to Jordan, according to Jordanian government figures.

To contact the reporters on this story: Donna Abu-Nasr in Manama at dabunasr@bloomberg.net; Ladane Nasseri in Dubai at lnasseri@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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