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Annan’s Syria “action group” stalled over Iran inclusion

A proposal by U.N. and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan to convene a high-level meeting of key international and regional powers in Geneva on Saturday, June 30, to promote a political transition in Syria appeared to be stalled today over differences between the United States and Russia, according to council diplomats. The United States objects ...

A proposal by U.N. and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan to convene a high-level meeting of key international and regional powers in Geneva on Saturday, June 30, to promote a political transition in Syria appeared to be stalled today over differences between the United States and Russia, according to council diplomats.

The United States objects to Annan’s plan to invite Iran, a close supporter of the Syrian regime, while Russia has been unwilling to endorse Annan’s plan for a political transition as a condition for participating in such a meeting. Annan’s deputy, Nasser Al Kidwa, told the Security Council behind closed doors that Annan is nearing a decision on whether or not to host the meeting of key foreign ministers, according to a confidential account of the meeting.

"We are awaiting clarity today on whether there is sufficient substantive agreement as well as consensus on the scope of participation before the envoy decides whether the meeting should proceed on the 30th as planned," Al Kidwa told the 15-nation council, according to a copy of his statement.

Earlier this month, Annan, the joint special envoy to Syria for the United Nations and the Arab League, proposed creating a "contact group" of key global and regional powers who could ratchet up pressure on the Syrian government and opposition to halt the violence there and begin talks on the country’s political future. Annan is now referring to the proposed negotiating group as an "action group."

But the negotiations have bogged down over the question of Iran’s attendance and over the degree to which the plan would lock President Bashar al-Assad into a process that would lead to his exit from power. Annan has tentatively penciled in a June 30 date for the meeting, but has yet to secure agreement from Russia and the United States to participate under his terms.

Over the weekend,  Annan presented the permanent five members of the Security Council, including the United States and Russia, with a confidential "non-paper" that outlined the agenda for such a meeting, including the "guiding principles for a political transition" in Syria, according to U.N. officials and Security Council diplomats.

Al Kidwa outlined the basic elements of the plan to the full council in a closed-door meeting today. He said it would include agreement on "guidelines and principles for a political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people," read a copy of his confidential statement.

It would also "identify steps and measures" — including an immediate cessation of violence — "to secure full implementation" of Annan’s six-point peace plan, Al Kidwa said. Finally, he said the plan calls for agreement on a series of "actions" to support Annan’s mediation efforts in Syria.

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told the U.N. Security Council that Washington supports Annan’s political roadmap. But Washington has continued to oppose a separate proposal by Annan to invite Iran, one of Syria’s strongest backers, to participate in the meeting.

Russia favors Iran’s participation but has also not agreed to the terms outlined in Annan’s non-paper. Moscow’s U.N. envoy, Vitaly Churkin, said that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has agreed to travel to Geneva for such a meeting.

Annan "is of course using his best efforts to facilitate a common position on the proposed outcomes of the action group," Al Kidwa said. "But he has also been steadfast in his resolve that an action group must be just that, and not a talking shop. The Joint Special envoy has made it clear that it is only worth holding this meeting on 30 June if the outcome is meaningful."

Follow me on Twitter @columlynch

Colum Lynch is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @columlynch

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