No return to Assads old Syria UN envoy

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The old Syria ruled by President Bashar al-Assad’s family is finished and the “new Syria” will never be the same, the U.N. special envoy said Thursday, in a strong hint that Assad will have to step down before a civil war can end.

Speaking to reporters after briefing the U.N. Security Council on what he said was the deteriorating situation in Syria, U.N.-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi did not mention Assad by name.

However, when asked whether a peace plan being considered by diplomats would require regime change, the envoy said: “I think it’s very, very, very clear that the people of Syria want change, and real change, not cosmetic changes.”

“The new Syria will not look like the Syria of today,” he said.

In an apparent reference to the chaotic wartime collapses of the long-entrenched regimes in Libya and Iraq, Brahimi stressed the importance of not allowing state institutions to “wither away.”

He said there should be an “evolution toward the new Syria” and that “it’s the Syrians who will decide what kind of regime they will have.”

Brahimi said Syria “very, very urgently” needed a ceasefire and a large peacekeeping force.

“A ceasefire will not hold unless it is very, very strongly observed. That, I believe, will require a peacekeeping mission.”

Although Brahimi said the Security Council was the only forum capable of taking action on Syria, the body remains divided between Western nations and Assad allies Russia and China.

Moscow and Beijing have blocked three Council resolutions condemning the Syrian government, while Russia complains that the United States has refused to condemn car bombings by rebels in Syria.

Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, called Brahimi’s briefing “very sobering” and said Moscow was “extremely disturbed” by the rebels’ “brazen terrorist attacks.”

However, Churkin denied that Russia was blindly supporting the embattled Syrian government’s attempt to defeat the opposition, and he suggested that Assad was expendable.

Russia is “trying to impress on the government in Syria that there is no military solution,” Churkin said. “A military solution is not really working.”

Calling for negotiations between the regime and rebels, Churkin said: “We need really to find responsible people on both sides... (to) swallow their pride.”

Asked if Assad should stay, Churkin said: “We're not saying President Assad should be sitting at the table.”

Syrian opposition coalition overcomes row, government nears

Meanwhile, Syrian opposition leaders overcame a row over membership of their new coalition on Thursday, but obstacles remain to forming a transitional government that could encourage greater Western backing for the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad.

Aware they could quickly lose credibility with rebels and opposition activists inside Syria, some 60 delegates meeting in Egypt began discussing an internal constitution as a first step toward forming a government according to a Western and Gulf backed plan, delegates said on Thursday.

“We’ll discuss today a mechanism for choosing a temporary government. We are talking about a mini-government at first, perhaps with four to five members,” said Rima Fleihan, one of a handful of minorities in the coalition, which has around 60 members.

Fleihan said the coalition will make it clear that any government it appoints will reject any deal to negotiate a transitional period in Syria unless Assad steps down, a condition not included in international proposals to solve the crisis that has cost tens of thousands of lives.

The SNC won scant international support. A Western and Gulf backed effort produced the new coalition earlier this month. Britain, France and Gulf countries have since recognized the coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people.

The coalition is holding its first full meeting in Cairo ahead of a conference of the Friends of Syria, a grouping of dozens of nations that had pledged mostly non-military backing for the revolt but who are worried by the influence of Islamists in the opposition.

Sources at the meeting said that the coalition could eventually raise its members from around 60 to 80 to include more minorities and Sunni figures who were overlooked.

But Michel Kilo, a veteran Christian opposition campaigner and a member of the coalition has not attended the Cairo meeting. The main Kurdish political bloc, the Kurdish National Council, has refused to join.

A dispute broke out when the meeting started on Wednesday as the SNC tried to increase its share in the coalition.

The SNC’s share eventually rose to by one to 28 and delegates agreed to form a “membership ratifications committee”, meaning that the issue could rear its head again, sources at the meeting said.

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