United Nations diplomats say envoy Kofi Annan has sent a plan for a power-sharing Syrian government to major world powers ahead of their crisis talks in Geneva on Saturday. It could exclude President Bashar al-Assad.
A UN diplomat in New York was quoted anonymously as saying that Annan's plan includes a "transitional national unity government to create a neutral backdrop for transition."
A second diplomat said the plan suggests "Assad could be excluded but also that certain opposition figures could be ruled out."
The diplomats said Russia's mute receipt of the plan "could be a sign that it is ready to let Assad go."
Vitaly Churkin, the UN ambassador of veto-power Russia, which has backed Assad, told reporters that Annan had been "consulting with us and others on the paper," but added there was no guarantee the envoy's plan would find full agreement at the talks in Geneva.
Another diplomat said Russia would not necessarily terminate its support for Assad's regime, which buys Russian arms and provides Moscow with a strategic Mediterranean naval base.
"I don't see the Russians giving up on Assad," the diplomat said.
Talks exclude Iran, Saudi Arabia
Foreign ministers from the five permanent member nations of the UN Security Council and their counterparts from Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar and Turkey will take part in the talks. The lineup does not include Syrian neighbors Iran and Saudi Arabia.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said while on a visit to Finland that she had been in regular contact with Annan over his transition proposal.
"We think it embodies the principles needed for any political transition in Syria that could lead to a peaceful, democratic and representative outcome reflecting the will of the Syrian people," Clinton said.
Syria's 16-month conflict, which began as a uprising early last year, has left more than 15,000 people dead, according to rights activists.
Violence at new peak
At a briefing by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Wednesday, Annan's deputy, Jean-Marie Guehenno, said the level of violence was higher than in April, when Syria's factions agreed to Annan's six-point ceasefire plan.
Leading council investigator Paulo Pinheiro, who visited Damascus secretly last week, said Assad's government and its allied militias were responsible for killing civilians, while opposition forces had tortured and executed captured soldiers.
New York-based Human Rights Watch accused Syrian troops of shooting "indiscriminately at anyone - including women and children - trying to flee Syria"
ipj/ncy (dpa, Reuters, AFP)