Annan in Beijing for talks on ending Syria crisis
BEIJING (AP) — Kofi Annan, the United Nations and Arab League envoy to Syria, was in Beijing on Tuesday to seek China's backing for his plan for a negotiated end to the bloody conflict in Syria.
Annan arrived after meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow, where he said there was no deadline for ending the Syrian crisis but that it cannot drag on indefinitely.
In Beijing, Annan met with Chinese Foreign Ministry officials and was to hold talks later Tuesday with Premier Wen Jiabao.
The former U.N. secretary-general is proposing a six-point plan to end the bloodshed in Syria. Annan said in Moscow that above all, the Syrian government and opposition must start a political process to resolve the conflict peacefully, adding that it would be up to the Syrians themselves to decide whether President Bashar Assad should step down.
China — along with Russia — has twice shielded Assad from U.N. sanctions over his crackdown on a yearlong uprising, in which more than 8,000 people have been killed. The two countries called the resolutions unbalanced, saying they blamed only the Syrian government and demanded an end to government attacks, but not ones by the opposition.
About 60 countries, including the United States, will attend a "Friends of the Syrian People" conference in Istanbul on Sunday. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Monday that China was invited but would not attend.
Washington and many of its allies have said Assad has lost all legitimacy in a year of cracking down on political opponents and that he must step down. China says the crisis needs to be resolved through talks.
Annan's proposals include a cease-fire first by the Syrian government, a daily two-hour halt to fighting to evacuate the injured and provide humanitarian aid, and inclusive Syrian-led political talks "to address the legitimate concerns of the Syrian people."
The conference in Istanbul will come as Turkey edges closer to setting up a buffer zone in Syria to protect civilians. Turkish officials have long been hesitant about the idea, but now say a surge of refugees from Syria might compel Turkey, preferably with international backing, to establish a buffer zone on Syrian soil to guarantee the security of its own southern border as well as the welfare of civilians fleeing violence.