As the United Nations gets set to launch preliminary discussions on international envoy Kofi Annan's proposal for a transitional government in Syria, Russia has voiced tepid assent.
Annan's proposal was set to be discussed initially on Friday, followed by talks at a meeting of key countries on Saturday in Geneva.
"Russia signaled its agreement early on. That was what we were told, and that was the basis for the meeting. Since then we are getting some mixed messages that the Russians may be resigning from that position," a senior UN diplomat told the AFP news agency.
After talks with the United States on Friday, however, a Russian diplomat said that there is a chance world powers could find common ground on how to resolve the conflict at crisis talks in Geneva on Saturday. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned, though, that it would be counterproductive to try to impose the outcome of the political transition process in advance. "We have a very good chance to find common ground at the conference in Geneva tomorrow," Lavrov told reporters after meeting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in St. Petersburg.
Annan's proposal calls for a "transitional government of national unity" that would exercise full executive powers. According to a draft copy of the plan, the new government would include "members of the present government and the opposition and other groups, but would exclude from government those whose continued presence and participation would undermine the credibility of the transition and jeopardize stability and reconciliation."
Moscow initially signaled support for the plan, but now Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has reportedly reversed course, and Russian diplomats are now demanding that Annan remove language from the proposal that calls for excluding certain individuals from a Syrian national unity government.
Rebels object too
Annan and the Western delegations were encouraging Moscow to drop the demand, but Russia is not alone in its reservations about the plan.
Annan is also facing opposition from Syrian rebels. Opposition groups in Syria have already warned they would not accept a political transition plan if it allowed President Bashar al-Assad to stay in power.
"Until we receive Mr. Annan's proposal, we cannot give a clear stand. But our firm position is that we will not engage in any dialogue or political settlement with the regime unless [Assad] leaves or is removed from power," George Sabra, spokesman for the main opposition Syrian National Council, said.
The United States, Britain and France are pushing for a diplomatic solution, but they have said Assad is responsible for the violence, which some estimates say have claimed at least 10,000 lives, and that he is no longer fit to govern. Russia and China object to what they see as the West calling for a "regime change."
Death tolls mounts
Explosions rocked a court complex in central Damascus on Thursday, wounding three and damaging 20 cars.
At least 70 people were killed on Thursday, mostly around Damascus.
The conflict in Syria has been raging for 16 months, and the recent downing of a Turkish military plane is threatening to pull Turkey into the fray. Turkey has enhanced its military presence near the Syrian border in response to the perceived threat.
Turkey deployed missile batteries, tanks and troops to the border with Syria on Thursday to function as a "security corridor."
Meanwhile, concern is growing about the health and safety of refugees in Syria. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said its efforts were focused on the suffering of around 1,000 Syrian civilians trapped in cross-fire in the central province of Homs.
tm/pfd/mkg (AP, dpa, Reuters)