Annan plans to return to Syria, urges UN unity

By the Associated Press | March 16, 2012 | 12:46 PM EDT

GENEVA (AP) — Kofi Annan, the special envoy charged with trying to help end the violence in Syria, says he plans to return to the nation after a team heads there this week to prepare more talks for him.

But he warned Friday of "a serious impact for the entire region if it's not handled properly."

He told reporters at the U.N.'s European headquarters in Geneva he had encouraged the U.N. Security Council "to speak with one voice" about the crisis, referring to Russia and China, which have blocked council action against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.

Annan, a former U.N. secretary-general who is the joint U.N. and Arab League special envoy, spoke after providing a confidential briefing by video link to the council in New York.

"I encouraged the council to speak with one voice as we try to resolve the crisis in Syria," he said. "There have been some differences but that is also normal."

The Security Council, the U.N.'s most powerful body, has been deeply divided over Syria. Moscow and Beijing have protected Assad's government from U.N. sanctions over its yearlong crackdown on protesters, which has left more than 8,000 people dead.

They have vetoed two U.S. and European-backed Security Council resolutions that would have condemned Assad's bloody crackdown, saying they were unbalanced and demanded that only the government stop attacks, not the opposition. Moscow, a longtime Syrian ally, has also accused Western powers of fueling the conflict by backing the rebels.

Syria's Foreign Ministry told the Security Council on Friday that Damascus will continue its crackdown but also will cooperate with Annan.

Annan said his team would prepare the way for him to return, though he did not set an exact date.

In Moscow, Russia said Friday it has encouraged the Syrian government to cooperate with Annan as he tried to help end the violence and urged the West to do the same with the Syrian rebels.

Annan met twice with Assad last weekend and made proposals to end the bloodshed.

"I told the Security Council we were talking with the Syrians and the talking continues," Annan told reporters in Geneva. "As long as you believe the discussions and the talks you are having are meaningful, I think you should continue."

But, he added, resolving the crisis in "Syria will be much more complex" than Libya.

His spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, told The Associated Press that Annan has decided to send a mission to Damascus as soon as possible to discuss practical steps to implement his proposals including an immediate cessation of the violence and ways to monitor a ceasefire.

Diplomats said Annan told the council that the stronger and more unified its message, the better the chances of shifting the dynamics of the conflict. They spoke on condition of anonymity because Annan's briefing was private.

Annan said Syria's response to his proposals has been disappointing so far, which is why the technical team will be continuing talks in Damascus.

Britain's U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, the current council president, refused to discuss details of Annan's briefing but said the council strongly supported his mission and was discussing a possible resolution to support it.


Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and Edie Leherer in New York contributed to this report.