Push for Syria talks is renewed

  • Article by: NED PARKER and SERGEI L. LOIKO , Los Angeles Times
  • Updated: December 27, 2012 - 9:24 PM

Signs of progress are scant, but envoy says revival of a plan for a transitional government could end the war.

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The battle for Aleppo is now in its sixth month, and Syria’s largest city wears the destruction it has suffered. Rebel forces have been making gains; the Syrian army is confined mostly to the city’s south and west, but, while weakened, iit s still potent and difficult to dislodge where concentrated.

Photo: Tyler Hicks, New York Times

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BEIRUT - Peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi made a new push Thursday to draw Syrian officials and rebels into negotiations, aiming to revive a plan for a transitional government and elections that faltered because of disagreements over the future of President Bashar Assad.

The effort by the Algerian diplomat came after weeks in which both sides in Syria have been focused more on fighting. Rebels appear to be making gains, seizing military bases and fighting for control of suburbs around the capital, Damascus.

On Tuesday, the head of Syria's military police announced he had defected, joining a number of other officers and soldiers who have deserted Assad's government.

In a boost for Brahimi, Russia's foreign minister said after meeting with a Syrian official that his country endorsed the peace plan originally crafted in summer and that Syrians on both sides of the conflict needed to enter a dialogue.

However, any effort to find a peaceful solution could founder on disagreement over the role of Assad in a transitional government.

Washington has demanded that Assad go. Moscow has distanced itself from Assad in recent weeks but has refused to break with him. But even if the international community can agree, the Syrians themselves might not go along. Assad has vowed to stay in office while rebels refuse anything less than his ouster.

Brahimi, who has been in Damascus for five days, plans to travel to Moscow soon for talks. He told reporters that the plan signed in Geneva by Russia, the United States, Turkey, China, Britain and the Arab League could quickly end the war if implemented.

The plan called for a transitional government to lead Syria until elections. It left open whether Assad or his officials could serve in the body.

Under the plan, Brahimi said an interim governing body with full executive powers would be established, with the goal of preserving stability until elections were held.

"This transitional period should not be allowed to lead to the collapse of the state and its institutions," Brahimi said. "On the contrary, everyone should cooperate -- the Syrians and those who assist them to preserve these institutions and to rebuild and strengthen them." Brahimi called for an international peacekeeping force to guard against a new outbreak of violence.

In Washington, U.S. officials said they supported Brahimi's efforts and were continuing discussions with the Russians about the details. They downplayed the prospect of any breakthrough.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met in Moscow with Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad on Thursday. According to a Foreign Ministry statement, Lavrov told Muqdad that Syrians needed a "broad inter-Syria dialogue and political process" to stop the fighting. The statement also reiterated Russia's adherence to the Geneva plan.

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