U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan called Friday for Iran to be included in the next efforts to bring peace to Syria, countering U.S. objections to Tehran's involvement by saying all nations with influence on the warring parties should play a role.
Annan's six-point peace plan for ending the 16-month-old uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad has been ignored by the Damascus government and the scattered rebel forces seeking Assad's ouster.
While again appealing for respect of a cease-fire proclaimed three months ago, Annan conceded that the artillery bombardments by government forces and guerrilla strikes by opposition fighters have raged unabated and that more effective intervention is needed.
"The longer we wait, the darker Syria's future becomes," Annan said at a news conference in Geneva.
Annan earlier this month proposed convening a "contact group" of nations with influence in the region, as the Syrian fighting descends into all-out civil war. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week suggested that the broader diplomatic initiative should include Iran, a close ally of Assad, but Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton immediately rejected the idea.
"It is time for countries of influence to raise the level of pressure on the parties on the ground, and to persuade them that it is in their interest to stop the killing and start talking," Annan said, quickly adding that cooperation is sorely lacking among those states.
In a veiled critique of the U.S. position that Iran is too much of a factor in the region's instability to contribute anything positive to the diplomatic overtures, Annan said he had "made it quite clear that I believe Iran should be part of the solution."
Annan said he hoped to convene the new diplomatic forum in Geneva on June 30 but that he hadn't yet received assurances from all of those invited that they would take part.
He was joined at the news conference by the head of the U.N. observer mission in Syria, Norwegian Gen. Robert Mood, who last week pulled the 300-strong unarmed observer force back to its quarters and canceled patrols because the intense fighting made their work too dangerous.
Mood said the observers were eager to resume their mission, and urged the Syrian government and rebels to allow the evacuation of more than 1,000 civilians trapped by the fighting in the city of Homs.
-- Carol J. Williams in Los Angeles
Photo: U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan, right, and Norwegian Gen. Robert Mood discuss obstacles to the peace mission in Syria at a news conference in Geneva on Friday. Credit: Sebastien Bozon / AFP/Getty Images