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Not much progress at Geneva meeting on Syria violence

World powers agreed Saturday on a plan for ending Syria’s violence – but only by sweeping under the rug unresolved differences over the role Bashar al-Assad should play in a political transition.

By Staff writer / June 30, 2012

Kofi Annan, right, Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League for Syria, speaks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov after a meeting of the Action Group for Syria at the European headquarters of the United Nations, in Geneva, Switzerland, Saturday.

Laurent Gillieron/AP

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WASHINGTON

World powers including the United States and Russia agreed Saturday on a plan for ending Syria’s violence – but only by sweeping under the rug their unresolved differences over the role Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should play in a political transition.

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As a result, the plan endorsed by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and a group of regional powers in Geneva Saturday seemed unlikely to reverse Syria’s slide toward all-out  war – a slide some leaders and regional experts have warned could degenerate into a dangerous regional conflict.

The watered-down plan, based on a stronger proposal initiated by UN and Arab League Syria envoy Kofi Annan, calls for a transitional government whose participants would be determined by Syrians. The plan also calls on the Syrian government forces and the rebels to recommit themselves to a cease-fire called earlier this year that never took hold.

Syria conflict: 5 warring factions

Mr. Annan said after the meeting that the adopted plan could take a year to implement – a long stretch of time that seems almost certain to witness more violence, especially since the plan includes no incentives for or constraints on the warring factions. 

Annan’s original plan had implicitly ruled out participation in any political transition by Mr. Assad and his closest lieutenants associated with more than a year of horrendous bloodletting. But Russia stood by its objections to any international action compelling Assad to step down.

The new plan allowed Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to insist in remarks after the meeting that Assad is closer than ever to falling from power. Assad “will still have to go, he will never pass the mutual consent test given the blood on his hands,” Secretary Clinton said.

But she added that it is now up to Russia and China, who have stood in the way of other international initiatives on Syria, to work from the plan they joined in adopting Saturday to ease Assad out of power.

“It is now incumbent on Russia and China to show Assad the writing on the wall,” she said. Clinton had met one-on-one with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Saint Petersburg Friday, but had been unable to win Russia’s acceptance of even an implicit call for Assad to give up power.

The vagueness of the plan adopted Saturday suggested that world powers decided it was better to have a weak outcome than to announce their failure to come together over a crisis that many leaders and regional experts have warned for months could end up sparking a broader conflict.    

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