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Annan says Iran can play positive in Syria crisis

By Ramin Mostaghim, Los Angeles Times –

TEHRAN, Iran — Special envoy Kofi Annan said Tuesday that Iran “can play a positive role” in resolving the crisis in Syria, but he declined to provide details on an apparently new “approach” suggested by Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“I believe … that Iran has a role to play,” Annan said, repeating his previous stance on the matter. “I don’t speak for other countries.”

The United States has charged than Iran, Assad’s close ally, has played a “destructive” role in helping keep the Syrian president in power amid a violent uprising now in its 16th month.

Annan, joint envoy for both the United Nations and the Arab League, spoke Tuesday at a news conference in Tehran with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi. The former U.N. chief later flew to neighboring Iraq for new talks.

Annan declined to provide specifics on what kind of approach for ending the violence he discussed the previous day with Assad in Damascus, the Syrian capital. But the initiative seems to have come from Assad, a point that may make it a nonstarter with the opposition, which has insisted that Assad must go before meaningful talks can begin for peace and a political transition.

“He (Assad) made a suggestion of 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 said. “The details, of course, are to be worked out and the opposition — we’ll also have to discuss this with them.”

Insurgent-linked violence has spread over much of Syria, but several areas remain hot spots, including several suburbs of Damascus, the central provinces of Homs and Hama, the eastern province of Dair Alzour and northern Idlib province, much of which is now under de facto rebel control.

The U.N. envoy is in the midst of his latest diplomatic tour meant to help salvage his faltering six-point peace plan, widely violated by both sides in the Syrian conflict since it was negotiated almost three months ago. Among other things, the plan calls for a cease-fire, a withdrawal of troops and armor from populated areas, and a start toward dialogue in the deeply divided nation.

Meanwhile, the best-known Syrian opposition group, the Syrian National Council, announced on its Facebook page that a delegation, headed by its top officer, Abdulbaset Sieda, will travel to Moscow on Wednesday for talks at the invitation of the Russian Foreign Ministry.

The council said it remains committed to its main principles — including bringing down the Syrian regime before starting to prepare for a transition. But Russia and another Assad ally, China, have rejected any plan that as a precondition calls on the Syrian leader to resign.

Annan’s visit to Tehran came amid further signs of the Syrian conflict spilling into neighboring Lebanon. Shelling from Syria had once again hit the northern border township of Wadi Khaled, marking the second deadly attack in recent days, Lebanese media reported Tuesday. It was unclear if any casualties resulted directly from the barrage.

Lebanon has bolstered its troop presence along the Lebanon-Syria border after Syrian troops last weekend bombarded several villages near Wadi Khaled, killing at least one person and causing several injuries. Syrian rebels have been active in various border zones, crossing back and forth and causing tensions to rise on Syria’s frontiers with Turkey and Lebanon.

The Lebanese army said in a statement that there had been gunfire between Syrian troops and gunmen in the Wadi Khaled region and that several shells fell on Lebanese soil.

Syrian authorities, via the official state news agency, said Syrian border guards and authorities had quelled “infiltration attempts” from Lebanon into Syria by “armed terrorist groups,” the government’s standard description of rebels. Assailants fired on border guard posts on the Syrian side and tried to drive vehicles with mounted machine guns into Syria, the official news agency said.

Several opposition members were killed and injured and one Syrian soldier was wounded in the border clashes, the official Syrian news agency reported.

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