Syria, Russia look to revive peace initiative
BEIRUT (AP) - Russia and the U.N envoy for Syria both said Thursday that they want to revive a long-shelved peace initiative that would call for a transitional government to run the country until elections can be held.
But it was unclear whether Lakhdar Brahimi's proposals would block top members of President Bashar Assad's regime from participating, an omission which helped doom the plan this summer. Russia said it not will endorse plans that call for Assad's ouster.
Much has changed in Syria in the past half-year. Rebels have seized more territory and a number of military installations in the country's north and are expanding their control in suburbs of the capital, Damascus.
This makes it increasingly unlikely that they will accept any plan that does not bar most members of Assad's regime from a future government.
The original Geneva plan called for the establishment of a national unity government with full executive powers that could include members of Assad's government, the opposition and other groups. It was to oversee the drafting of a new constitution and elections.
Because of Russian objections, that plan did not call specifically for Assad's ouster, nor did it ban him from participation in the new government - making it a non-starter with the opposition.
"The Syrian people seek genuine change," Brahimi told reporters in Damascus, adding that the transitional period "must not lead to the collapse of the state or the state's institutions."
Brahimi said that original plan could undergo some amendments, but did not specify what those could be. Nor did he specify how his plan would treat Assad. He said it still needed to be determined whether the called-for elections would be for president or parliament.
The Syrian government did not immediately comment on Brahimi's suggestion.
Russia has been Assad's strongest backer throughout the conflict, selling arms to his forces and, along with China, protecting him from censure by the U.N. Security Council for his violent crackdown on the opposition.
Top Russian officials have recently signaled a new resignation to the idea that Assad could fall. Still, they have said they will not call for his ouster or offer him refuge should he decide to flee.
In Moscow on Thursday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevic said Russia is trying to revive the June plan. He also reaffirmed Moscow's objection to calls for Assad's ouster.
"We continue to believe that there is no alternative to that document in trying to find a settlement in Syria," Lukashevich said.
Brahimi is due to visit Russia this weekend. Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad met Thursday with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to pave the way for Brahimi's visit.
Mekdad is expected to hold talks with other top Russian diplomats later.
Violence continued around Syria on Thursday, with rebels attacking a police academy and military airport in the northern province of Aleppo while clashing with government forces near the Wadi Deif military base in Idlib.
A car bomb blew up Thursday morning in the Damascus suburb of Sbeineh, killing four people and wounding ten others, the state news agency said.
Anti-regime activists say more than 40,000 people have been killed since crisis began in March 2011.