BEIRUT -- After weeks of uncertainty, a State Department official confirmed Wednesday that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will attend a meeting to discuss implementation of a faltering United Nations-brokered peace plan for Syria.
There had been doubts about Clinton’s attendance and whether the “action group” meeting now called by U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan for Saturday in Geneva would take place at all.
Washington had balked at Russia's suggestion that Iran, a close ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, send a representative to the session. The State Department had labeled Iran’s prospective presence not helpful and a “red line.”
On Wednesday, Ahmad Fawzi, a spokesman for Annan, confirmed Iran would not be invited. The envoy planned to brief Iranian officials and ensure “their continued engagement with the process,” Fawzi said in an email.
Invited to the session were the foreign ministers of the U.N. Security Council’s five permanent members -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France -- as well as ministers from Turkey, Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar.
The gathering is widely viewed as an 11th-hour effort to revive Annan’s wavering six-point peace plan, widely ignored by both sides in the Syrian conflict. Violence has been escalating in Syria in recent weeks amid fears the nation is spiraling toward a full-fledged, sectarian-tinged civil war.
The “action group” will be asked to identify “steps and measures to secure full implementation” of Annan’s plan, including “an immediate cessation of violence in all its forms,” according to a news release Wednesday from Annan’s office. Participating nations also will seek agreement on “guidelines and principles for a Syrian-led political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people, and agree on actions that will make these objectives a reality on the ground.”
[Updated June 27, 9:24 a.m.: Before her attendance at the Geneva conference was confirmed, Clinton sounded an optimistic tone about the U.N. peace process, saying Annan “has developed his own very concrete roadmap for political transition.”
Details of the “roadmap” were not immediately available. But Clinton told reporters in Helsinki on Wednesday that “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.”]
While all participating nations have voiced support for Annan’s peace plan, a key point of contention is Assad's future. The U.S. and its allies have insisted the Syrian leader must go. Russia and China have resisted pressures to force Assad’s departure.
-- Patrick J. McDonnell
Photo: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, shown Wednesday waving to employees as she visited a textile and clothing design house in Finland, plans to attend a peace conference on Syria called for Saturday in Geneva. Credit: Martti Kainulainen / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images