TEHRAN — Kofi Annan arrived in Tehran on Monday after having what he termed “a very candid and constructive discussion” with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus during the U.N. special envoy's latest bid to salvage his faltering six-point peace plan for Syria.
The visits to Tehran and Damascus in quick succession signal that Annan is stepping up regional efforts to find a settlement for the Syrian crisis before it descends into all-out civil war.
The trip to Iran suggests that Annan is eager to have Tehran on board for any possible peace deal or transitional governing plan for Syria. Annan has said for weeks that Iran, a close ally of Assad, should be involved in any talks to work out a resolution of the Syria crisis.
But the Iranian leadership has given no public sign of being willing to abandon Assad. U.S. officials have generally looked askance at any Iranian involvement in international efforts to resolve the situation in Syria.
“I am here to discuss the situation in Syria -- as you know, there was an Action Group for Syria meeting in Geneva at the end of last month -- and to see how we can work together to help settle the situation in Syria,” Annan said.
At the insistence of the United States, Iran was left off the guest list of Annan’s multinational “action group” meeting on Syria in Geneva last month.
Participating nations in the Geneva session approved broad parameters for a “transitional” government that would, in theory, lead to greater democracy in Syria, where the Assad family has ruled for more than four decades. But the U.N.-backed blueprint did not mandate that Assad step down. It also did not lay out any enforcement mechanism or penalties should Syria's ruler refuse to implement a transitional government.
No details were immediately available on Annan’s visit to Tehran, other than that he would be meeting with Iranian leaders. An official in the Iranian Foreign Ministry told The Times that Annan is scheduled to hold talks with Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi on Tuesday. The source was not sure about whether the international envoy would also meet with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
In Damascus, Annan said he and Assad “discussed the need to end the violence and ways and means of doing so.”
The two “agreed on an approach,” Annan said, without providing any details. But the former U.N. chief said he planned to share details with the rebel militias fighting to oust Assad from power.
Annan said he “stressed the importance of moving ahead with a political dialogue which the president accepts.” No further details were available.
The Syrian government labels the armed opposition terrorists. And the opposition has generally said it would not talk to Assad, which it considers a murderer. The mutual animosity has made the prospects for meaningful dialogue very difficult after nearly 16 months of turmoil.
Annan’s stop in Damascus marked his third visit to strife-torn Syria. His peace plan calls for a truce, a withdrawal of troops from populated areas, and a start toward some kind of a political resolution in Syria. Both sides have violated the terms of the cease-fire, which never took hold after being declared almost three months ago.
While Annan was in Syria, oppositional activists reported fresh violence, saying army shelling was hitting the restive regions of Dair Alzour, Dara, Homs, Aleppo, the suburbs of Damascus, and an area in Latakia province while government troops clashed with rebels. By the early afternoon, activists had reported 17 people killed across Syria.
-- Ramin Mostaghim. Alexandra Sandels in Beirut and Patrick J. McDonnell in Istanbul contributed.
Photo: Special envoy Kofi Annan holds a news conference in Damascus on Monday before leaving Syria for Iran. Credit: Louai Beshara / Agence France-Presse/Getty Images