International mediator Kofi Annan said on Friday he was “optimistic” that ministerial crisis talks on Syria’s conflict being held on Saturday would produce a good outcome, despite Syrian President al-Assad dismissing the notion of any outside solution to the 16-month-old uprising against his rule.
“I think we are going to have a good meeting tomorrow (Saturday). I am optimistic,” Annan told Reuters Television in Geneva as he arrived for preparatory discussions due to begin at 0900 GMT.
The talks being held by foreign ministers of major powers and regional players in the Swiss city will end “with an acceptable result,” he said, without giving details.
Russia proposed changes on Thursday to his plan for a national unity government in Syria, despite initially supporting it, but the United States, Britain and France rejected the amendments, Western diplomats said.
The suggested changes are related to Moscow’s refusal to support Assad’s ouster, diplomats in New York told AFP news agency on condition of anonymity.
Annan’s spokesman Ahmad Fawzi told Reuters: “The talks are on course and the preparatory meeting is going ahead this morning (Friday).”
Western and Arab diplomats said that the preparatory meeting of senior officials would be key to paving the way to consensus on the prickly issue of political transition in Syria.
But Assad on Thursday said: “We will not accept any non-Syrian, non-national model, whether it comes from big countries or friendly countries. No one knows how to solve Syria’s problems as well as we do,” Assad said.
Meanwhile, senior officials were making last-minute preparations in Geneva on Friday ahead of the crucial meeting,
Representatives from countries and groups on the guest list of the so-called Action Group drawn up by peace envoy Kofi Annan were meeting on the eve of the talks aimed at halting the bloodshed and promoting a political transition.
Western governments have also told Annan that there is no point in going ahead with Saturday’s meeting unless prior agreement can be reached on his proposals for such a political transition.
They say the fate of the conference could remain in the balance until a 1730 GMT meeting in Saint Petersburg between U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Russia, one of the last major allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has objected to a proposal which could limit membership of a transitional unity government in Syria, diplomats said.
Annan’s plan, obtained by AFP, said the interim government could include Assad officials and the opposition “but would exclude from government those whose continued presence and participation would undermine the credibility of the transition and jeopardize stability and reconciliation”.
Diplomats have said this means that Assad could be ruled out of the government but did not automatically exclude his participation. Opposition figures could also be kept out under the same formula.
Lavrov insisted on Thursday that Assad’s fate “must be decided within the framework of a Syrian dialogue by the Syrian people themselves.”
Speaking in Latvia before her departure for Saint Petersburg, Clinton rejected any suggestion that Annan was proposing a transition imposed from outside.
“In his transition document it is a Syrian-led transition, but you have to have a transition that complies with international standards on human rights, accountable governance, the rule of law,” she said.
Clinton also insisted that by agreeing to attend the Geneva conference, Russia had implicitly signed up to Annan’s proposals.
The Action Group conference was due to be attended by Clinton, Lavrov and the foreign ministers of fellow permanent Security Council members Britain, China, France as well as Kuwait, Qatar and Turkey.
Syria’s ally Iran has been excluded from the meeting, a decision Russia said was a mistake.