Annan warns of Syria escalation, says talks continue

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 16, 2012 2:29 PM
Annan warns of Syria escalation, says talks continue

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - Kofi Annan, special envoy on Syria for the United Nations and the Arab League, said on Friday the situation in the country needed to be handled carefully to avoid an escalation that would destabilize the region.

Annan said he had urged the U.N. Security Council to speak with "one voice" to bring a halt to the violence, gain unimpeded access for aid workers and launch a political process leading to a democratic Syria.

He gave no details after his briefing of the Security Council by video link from his Geneva office.

"I think that we need to handle the situation in Syria very, very carefully," Annan told reporters in the Swiss city.

"Yes, we tend to focus on Syria but any miscalculation that leads to major escalation will have impact in the region which would be extremely difficult to manage," he said.

"Some people have a tendency to compare it with Libya or other situations, but I believe Syria is proving much more complex and this is why everybody is moving very cautiously."

Days after being named to the post last month, Annan met Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi, whose country is one of President Bashar al-Assad's few remaining allies. {ID:nL5E8DR9P8]

He said his talks on halting the violence were continuing with the Syrian government following his meetings last weekend with Assad, the unarmed branch of the Syrian opposition and in Ankara with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.

"The opposition I met, it wasn't the armed opposition, the opposition I met were keen to get talks going and resolve the issues politically and peacefully," he said.

"It is for the people of Syria that I toil...I appeal once again in the name of the people and for the sake of humanity to stop this brutality," Annan declared.

Turkey said on Friday it might set up a "buffer zone" inside Syria to protect refugees fleeing Assad's forces, raising the prospect of foreign intervention in the year-long revolt.

TALKS WITH CHINA, RUSSIA

Annan also met on Friday with the ambassadors of China and Russia to the United Nations in Geneva, whose countries have vetoed Security Council resolutions twice on Syria.

"I was encouraged by the very strong support and the determination of the Council to work together. I know that some of you are smiling, there have been several differences, but that is also normal. And I hope pretty soon that you will be hearing one voice from the Council," he said.

Annan is expected to travel to both Russia and China as part of his mission.

He will send a team to Damascus early next week to discuss a proposal to deploy international monitors in the country, Annan's spokesman Ahmad Fawzi told Reuters earlier on Friday.

"I will be sending teams in this weekend to pursue the discussions on the proposals we left on the table, and at the appropriate time when I deem sufficient progress has been made, I shall be prepared to go back to the region," Annan said.

The veteran negotiator and Nobel Peace Prize laureate declined to say how long he was prepared to wait for progress.

"Time is always an issue in negotiations. Of course each crisis or situation has its own specificities.

"What is important is for us to engage and make sure the other side engages seriously and to ensure that you are moving ahead and making progress.

"If you come to the conclusion or make the judgment that it is a waste of time or one side is playing for time, you draw the consequences and take appropriate action," Annan said.

(Additional reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Louise Ireland)