BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) — Syria's president has agreed to a new UN-brokered peace plan focusing on calming the most violent areas of the country, then expanding to the entire nation, international envoy Kofi Annan said yesterday.
At a news conference in Iran, Annan said the plan still must be presented to the opposition. But he said President Bashar Assad suggested trying to calm specific areas a day earlier during talks in the Syrian capital aimed at ending the violence, which activists say has killed more than 17,000 people since March 2011.
"(Assad) made a suggestion of building an approach from the ground up in some of the districts where we have extreme violence — to try and contain the violence in those districts and, step by step, build up and end the violence across the country," Annan told reporters in Tehran, his first step on a tour of Syria's staunchest allies.
Annan later met Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad to discuss ways to end the 16 months of bloodshed.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said one of its Syrian staff was shot and killed yesterday while riding in a clearly marked ambulance in eastern Syria. It did not say who shot him.
The group said it was second time in a month that one of its workers had been killed and called on all sides to protect medics.
Anti-regime activists reported government shelling of opposition areas and clashes with armed rebels throughout Syria yesterday.
The conflict in Syria has defied every international attempt to bring peace, including an earlier effort by Annan, and there was no sign that the plan the UN-Arab envoy described yesterday will be a breakthrough. Although the government's crackdown has made Assad an international pariah, he still has the support of strong allies such as Russia, Iran and China.
The international community has little appetite for military intervention of the type that helped bring down Libya's Moammar Gadhafi last year, and several rounds of sanctions and other attempts to isolate Assad have done little to stop the bloodshed.
Annan's latest efforts to reach out to Syria's allies suggest he sees them as integral to solving the crisis. Annan's appeal to Iran in particular appeared to oppose the approach of Washington, which has rejected Iran's participation in helping solve the crisis.
Tehran has provided Assad with military and political backing for years, and it has kept up its strong support for the regime since the Syrian uprising began.
Yesterday, Annan said Tehran has offered its support to end the conflict and must be "part of the solution."
"My presence here proves that I believe Iran can play a positive role and should therefore be a part of the solution in the Syrian crisis," Annan told reporters in Tehran after meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi.
He said he "received encouragement and cooperation" from the Iranian government but did not elaborate.
Since Assad took power following the death of his father, Hafez, in 2000, he has deepened cultural, political and economic ties with Iran, making it Syria's strongest regional ally. Tehran, in turn, has boosted Assad's military, providing it with advanced communications technology and weapons, as well as sending elite military advisers.
All of this makes Iran unlikely to back change in Syria.
Annan brokered a six-point peace plan earlier this year, but it has failed to gain traction on the ground.
Government forces and rebels have widely disregarded a cease-fire that was to begin in April, and spreading violence has kept nearly 300 UN observers monitoring the truce stuck in their hotels in Syria.
The UN envoy stressed the urgency of finding a solution to the crisis.
"If we don't make a real effort to resolve this issue peacefully and it were to get out of hand and spread in the region, it can lead to consequences that none of us could imagine," he said.