GENEVA – An international conference on Saturday accepted a U.N.-brokered peace plan that calls for the creation of a transitional government in Syria, but at Russia’s insistence the compromise agreement left the door open to Syria’s president being part of it.
The U.S. backed away from insisting that the plan should explicitly call for President Bashar Assad to have no role in a new Syrian government, hoping the concession would encourage Russia to put greater pressure on its longtime ally to end the violent crackdown that the opposition says has claimed more than 14,000 lives.
But even with Russia’s most explicit statement of support yet for a political transition in Syria, it is far from certain that the plan will have any real effect in curbing the violence. A key phrase in the agreement requires that the transitional governing body “shall be formed on the basis of mutual consent,” effectively giving the present government and the opposition veto power over each other.
Syrian opposition figures immediately rejected any notion of sharing in a transition with Assad, though the agreement also requires security force chiefs and services to have the confidence of the people. Assad’s government had no immediate reaction, but he has repeatedly said his government has a responsibility to eliminate terrorists and will not accept any non-Syrian model of governance.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insisted on Saturday that Assad would still have to go, saying it is now “incumbent on Russia and China to show Assad the writing on the wall” and “help force his departure.”
“There is a credible alternative to the Assad regime,” she said. “What we have done here is to strip away the fiction that he and those with blood on their hands can stay in power.”
Kofi Annan was appointed the special envoy in February, and in March he submitted a six-point peace plan that he said the Assad regime accepted. It led to the April 12 cease-fire agreement that failed to hold.
Moscow had refused to back a provision that would call for Assad to step aside, insisting that outsiders cannot order a political solution for Syria.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov underlined that the plan does not require Assad’s ouster, saying there is “no attempt in the document to impose on the Syrian people any type of transitional process.”
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi called for all sides to end the violence “without attaching any conditions,” but said that no one from the outside can make any legitimate decisions for the Syrian people.
The U.N. plan calls for establishing a transitional government of national unity, with full executive powers, that could include members of Assad’s government and the opposition and other groups. It would oversee the drafting of a new constitution and elections.