An international conference began in Geneva yesterday to try and salvage a peace plan for Syria brokered by the UN-Arab League’s envoy Kofi Annan.
Earlier, Russia said there was a “very good chance” of finding common ground.
But a US official said areas of “difficulty and difference” remained with Moscow, which sees Syria as its closest ally in the Middle East.
Some 15 800 people have died in the 16-month anti-government uprising in Syria, rights groups say.
Violence has continued, despite a nominal ceasefire brokered by Mr Annan. More than 180 people were killed last Friday, rights groups said, after Syrian forces shelled a suburb of the capital Damascus and the restive central city of Homs.
One Syrian human rights group said about 4 700 of the 15 800 killed since the uprising began had died since mid-April, when the ceasefire was supposed to enter into force. The latest diplomatic efforts on Syria cannot succeed without Russia’s backing. It’s a sign of just how key Moscow is that ahead of the talks in Geneva, there were talks in St Petersburg — between the Russian Foreign Minister and the US Secretary of State.
Russia’s role is vital because it has influence in Damascus, which the other players don’t — it supplies Syria with weapons, and political support — while Russia’s veto at the UN Security Council has already been used as a counterweight to Western pressure. Speaking afterwards, Sergei Lavrov said he believed there was a good chance that all sides round the table in Geneva would find common ground.
But recent rhetoric between Russia and America suggests that East and West still don’t agree on the key question — the fate of President Assad. Moscow sounds unwilling to pressure him into leaving power. If that remains Russia’s position, then reaching a consensus on a transitional government will be hard.
Arriving at the talks in Geneva, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said reaching agreement on Syria remained “very difficult”.
“It’s always been our view, of course, that a stable future for Syria, a real political process, means (President Bashar al- ssad leaving power.”
Russia has been hostile to any solution that would see Mr Assad forced out.— BBC.