U.N.-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan arrived in Tehran on Monday from Syria for talks with the Islamic republic’s top security official and foreign minister, the Arabic-language al-Alam television reported.
Annan said he had a “constructive” meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on Monday.
“I had constructive and candid talks with President Assad,” he told reporters at a Damascus hotel, echoing Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi who described the meeting as “constructive and good.”
“We discussed the need to end the violence and ways and means of doing so. We agreed an approach which I will share with the armed opposition,” he said.
Al-Watan newspaper, which is close to the government, said the Annan-Assad talks focused on the results of the Geneva meeting at the end of June of an international contact group on Syria.
They discussed means “to implement the results of the meeting … on forming a transitional government in Syria that groups government and opposition representatives without mention of Assad’s departure.”
Iran’s official IRNA news agency reported that Annan will travel to Tehran on Monday after he wraps up a visit to Syria.
“Kofi Annan, the United Nations envoy, will arrive in Tehran today… at the end of his two-day visit to Syria,” the agency said, citing unidentified “news sources.”
Meanwhile, 17 people were killed by the fire of Syrian forces across the country, Al Arabiya reported citing activists at the Local Coordination Committees (LCC).
Heavy clashes were reported in al-Abbaseyeen area in central Damascus overnight between the Syrian government forces and the Free Syrian Army, Al Arabiya reported on Monday, citing the LCC.
As many as 99 have been killed on Sunday across the country, activists said. Violent crackdown campaigns were resumed by the Syrian government troops in Damascus suburbs, Homs, Hama and Deraa, they told Al Arabiya.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned on Sunday that time is running out to save Syria from a “catastrophic assault,” and scores of people were reportedly killed across the country, most of them civilians.
“The sooner there can be an end to the violence and a beginning of a political transition process, not only will fewer people die, but there is a chance to save the Syrian state from a catastrophic assault that would be very dangerous not only to Syria but to the region,” Clinton told a Tokyo news conference.
She appeared to be referring to the possibility of Syrian rebels launching such an assault on state institutions rather than to any outside intervention.
“There is no doubt that the opposition is getting more effective in their defense of themselves and in going on the offence against the Syrian military and the Syrian government’s militias. So, the future … should be abundantly clear to those who support the Assad regime,” Clinton added.
“The sand is running out of the hour glass.”
Turkey has reinforced its border and scrambled fighter aircraft several times since Syria shot down a Turkish reconnaissance jet on June 22 over what Damascus said were Syrian territorial waters in the Mediterranean. Ankara said the incident occurred in international air space, according to Reuters
Earlier, Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi had told AFP Annan would hold talks on his six-point plan for peace with the Syrian leadership.
Annan himself has said his U.N.-backed mission has so far failed to halt the bloodshed, while stressing that Russia and Iran must not be sidelined from peace efforts.
“Russia wields influence but I am not sure that the events will be determined by Russia alone… Iran is an actor. It has to be part of the solution. It has influence and we cannot ignore it,” Annan told France’s Le Monde daily.
He also expressed irritation that while Moscow and Iran are mentioned by some as stumbling blocks to peace, “little is said about other countries which send arms, money, and have a presence on the ground.”
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has accused the United States and its allies of opposing Assad’s regime with the goal of dominating the Middle East and propping up Israel.
Iran’s deputy foreign minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said on Sunday in Jordan that any attack on Syria would be “stupid” and “catastrophic.”
Syria’s state news agency SANA reported that the country’s navy staged live fire exercises to “simulate the scenario of repelling a sudden attack from the sea.”
Earlier, Clinton acknowledged in Tokyo that efforts led by Annan to get Assad’s regime to halt its crackdown were proving difficult.
“The sooner there can be an end to the violence and a begetting of a political transition process, not only will fewer people die, but there’s a chance to save the Syrian state from a catastrophic assault that would be dangerous not only to the country, but the region,” she told reporters.
“It should be abundantly clear to those who support the Assad regime their days are numbered.”
Clinton was speaking after talks in Paris on Friday where countries pledged to increase pressure on Assad to step down by seeking a tough U.N. resolution backed by a threat of sanctions.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, also speaking in Tokyo, renewed his call on the Security Council for collective action to pressure Syria to stop the violence.
“President Assad must understand that things cannot continue as they are. Fundamental change is needed,” Ban said.
The United States is “part of the conflict. They offer the umbrella and political support to those gangs to… destabilize Syria,” he told German public broadcaster ARD in an interview to be broadcast later on Sunday.
Assad said the Annan plan had failed to stop bloodshed because “many countries don’t want it to succeed.”
More than 17,000 people have now died since the uprising began in March last year, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.