World powers reach peace agreement for Syria
Geneva, Switzerland (CNN) — Members of the international community on Saturday forged an agreement for a transition to end the violence in and bring peace to Syria.
The first step should be a recommitment to a cease-fire by both sides and implementation of a U.N. and Arab League-backed six-point plan without waiting for the actions of others, Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan said.
A key to the process will be a transitional government, which Annan said could include members of the current Syrian regime. The make-up of such a body would be decided by the Syrians, he said.
“We are determined to work together urgently and intensively, to bring an end to the violence and the human rights abuses and the launch of a Syrian-led political process leading to a transition that meets the legit aspiration of the Syrian people,” Annan said.
The agreement also calls on the Syrian government to release detainees and allow journalists access to the country. The right to peaceful demonstrations must be respected, Annan said.
The agreement is a last-gasp attempt to end the carnage in Syria and contain a growing crisis that some diplomats warn could potentially engulf the entire region.
Ahead of the meeting, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Russia and China were making negotiations on the subject “very difficult.”
The United States and many other nations demand Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step down to make way for a transitional unity government. Russia says his future must be decided solely by the Syrian people, with no outside interference.
In the end, the so-called “Action Group,” including China and Russia, agreed to the new plan.
Under the agreement, it remains possible for al-Assad to remain part of a transitional government, an idea unpalatable to many.
But in remarks with reporters, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the document makes it clear that there is no future for al-Assad in Syria.
“Assad will still have to go. He will never pass the mutual consent test, given the blood on his hands,” she said.
According to the agreement, the power to govern Syria will be vested in the transitional governing body, so all authority will be stripped from al-Assad if he refuses to step down.
It is significant that all of the countries were able to come to an agreement, Clinton said.
“Every day that has gone by without unity on the Security Council and among the states gathered here is a day that has given comfort to Assad and his cronies and supporters. What we have done here is to strip away the fiction that he and those with blood on their hands can stay in power,” she said.
Clinton said the plan should be endorsed by the U.N. Security Council, which would allow for the possibility of sanctions against Syria if the requirements aren’t met.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the document should not be interpreted as outside powers imposing a transitional government on the Syrians.
“We consider it to be of key importance that there is no attempt in the document to impose upon the Syrian side any kind of transitional process,” he said.
The process has to come from inside Syria, he said.
Earlier, Annan issued a dire warning as the opening session began at the United Nations’ European headquarters.
“We should never have reached this point,” he said. His plan, he said, has not been implemented. Some U.N. members, he said, “simultaneously took national or collective initiatives of their own, undermining the process.”
As various diplomats emerged from the morning session, some were more optimistic.
Annan invited top diplomats from the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, along with envoys from Turkey, the United Nations, the European Union and the Arab League, to the emergency meeting.
Speaking from Cairo, the coordinator of the Preparatory Committee of the Syrian Opposition Conference, Rima Flihan, said no transition would be possible with al-Assad in power.
“No dialogue will start before Assad steps down and we insist on our right to put on trial everyone who participated in the mass killings against our people and that every single official who ordered these crimes must be held responsible before we discuss a political road map for a political solution,” she said.
The bloodshed continued in Syria as the latest round of discussions got under way.
At least 43 people died Saturday across Syria, the opposition group Local Coordination Committees of Syria said.
They included 10 civilians, children among them, who were killed in Souran, Hama, by regime forces, the group said. Three more were killed in Aleppo, which security forces shelled with rockets and heavy machinery, the LCC said.
Another opposition group, the Syria Observatory for Human Rights, said more than 30 were killed when a bomb detonated during a funeral process in the Damascus suburban town of Zamalka. It’s unclear whether any of these deaths were included in the LCC count.
Syrian state TV reported deadly clashes between regime forces and “armed terrorists” in Idlib. The LCC earlier reported intense mortar shelling and heavy artillery in the area.
“We’re confident that God’s victory is near,” marchers chanted Friday in demonstrations near the presidential palace in central Damascus. “We will no longer kneel to anyone but God.”
They lambasted al-Assad’s family with cries of, “We are coming after you, may God curse your soul.”
In an interview Thursday with an Iranian state media, al-Assad said Syrians support the state in the face of foreign interference.
Some countries want to see military action against Syria of the same kind as was seen in Libya, al-Assad told Iran’s Channel 4, according to Syria’s state-run SANA news agency.
“We don’t have any information of specific plans, but there are bids by the a few countries to push the issue toward military action,” he said.
The death toll has mounted since March last year, when a bloody government crackdown on peaceful protests intensified into an anti-regime uprising.
The uprising against the al-Assad regime shows no sign of abating. The Local Coordination Committees estimates more than 14,000 people have died in Syria since it started.
Violence rages on 15 months after the anti-government protests started.
On Friday, several explosions hit Damascus neighborhoods, the opposition group said. And regime forces killed at least 70 people across Syria, more than 10 of them children, according to the group.
CNN cannot independently confirm the reports of casualties or violence because Syria restricts access by international journalists.
CNN’s Saad Abedine, Joe Sterling, Mariano Castillo and Alla Eshchenko contributed to this report.