Step-by-step end to conflict

BAGHDAD — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has suggested ending Syria’s conflict on a step-by-step basis, starting with districts that have seen the worst violence, international mediator Kofi Annan told a press conference in Tehran today.

Annan met Assad in Damascus yesterday at the start of a round of shuttle diplomacy to try to revive his moribund plan for ending Syria’s 16-month-old crisis.

He said Assad had suggested “building an approach from the ground up in some of the districts where we have extreme violence – to try and contain the violence in those districts and, step by step, build up and end the violence across the country”.

Annan, who represents the United Nations and the Arab League, said he needed to discuss the proposal with the Syrian opposition and could not give further details.

It was not clear how or where he planned to do this. After talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, Annan flew to Baghdad.

The French Foreign Ministry said he would present the conclusions of his tour to the Security Council in New York tomorrow.

Meanwhile Syria’s major ally Russia proposed what sounded like an alternative to the Western-backed, anti-Assad “Friends of Syria” forum, with an offer to visiting Syrian opposition groups to host regular meetings of Annan’s “action group” of countries, which is more balanced between pro- and anti-Assad influences.

“We would welcome the organization of a regular session of an ‘action group’ in Moscow … In any case we see the relevance in carrying out such an event,” Interfax news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov as saying.

The Syrian National Council – the main opposition umbrella group in exile – is due to hold talks tomorrow with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Its delegation of ten members is led by the group’s head, Abdelbasset Sida. (Reuters)

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