Envoy: Progress with Assad

Vahid Salemi/ap U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan said Syrian leader Bashar Assad discussed a transitional government.

GENEVA — Syrian President Bashar Assad has discussed the possibility of forming a transitional government for his country as proposed by an international conference in Geneva last month, Kofi Annan said Wednesday.

Annan, the U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria, said that during his discussions with Assad in Damascus this week, the Syrian leader proposed someone who could serve as an interlocutor for the regime as it explores ways of forming a transitional government with the opposition.

Activists estimate that 17,000 people have been killed in the Assad regime’s crackdown on a popular uprising that began in March 2011. As the conflict has dragged on, the increasingly armed rebellion appears to be getting more radicalized and violent, complicating the goal of a peaceful resolution or transfer of power.

Annan spoke to reporters in Geneva after a private videoconference session with the U.N. Security Council in New York. The envoy did not identify the person whose name Assad put forward, but said, “He did offer a name and I indicated that I wanted to know a bit more about that individual. So we are at that stage.”

Annan said the key is appointing “an effective empowered interlocutor” with access to the president who is authorized to negotiate on the basis of the six-point plan and the guidelines for a transition and would be viewed “with confidence by those he or she must engage.”

Annan urged the 15-nation council, the most powerful arm of the United Nations, to send a message to the Syrian government and the opposition that there will be consequences if they don’t comply with demands for an immediate cease-fire, Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said.

“He called for the Security Council members to put aside their national interests and to put joint and sustained pressure on both parties with clear consequences for noncompliance,” Lyall Grant told reporters after the meeting.

To accomplish that, he said, Western nations would introduce a draft resolution threatening sanctions against the Syrian government and opposition if Annan’s six-point peace plan and guidelines for a Syrian-led political transition adopted in Geneva last month are not implemented. The proposed resolution would be under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which can be enforced militarily.

Russia and China, key allies of Assad and veto-wielding council members, have blocked repeated attempts by the U.S. and its European allies to even threaten “consequences,” a diplomatic code word for sanctions.

Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador Alexander Pankin said Annan “sounded very concerned, (but) there are encouraging signs” after his meeting with Assad.

---- “Kofi Annan did not ask us to apply sanctions. He just said that the Security Council should speak in a united and single voice and make sure to send a signal that its suggested recommendations and actions have to be implemented,” Pankin said.