UN peace envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, has distanced himself from Syrian President Bashar Assad. He rejected Assad's latest proposals as too "sectarian."
The UN and Arab League told the news agency Reuters on Wednesday that he thought Bashar Assad could not play a part of an interim administration as mapped out in a peace plan drawn up by international negotiators last year.
"Surely he would not be a member of that government," Lakhdar Brahimi told Reuters in an interview in Cairo.
Earlier Brahimi had given his first public reaction to a three-step plan to end Syria's 21-month conflict, unveiled by the Syrian president on Sunday.
"What has been said this time is not really different and it is perhaps even more sectarian, more one-sided," he told the British broadcaster BBC. "What you need is reaching out and recognizing that there is a... very serious problem between Syrians, and that Syrians have got to talk to one another to solve it," Brahimi said.
His comments have been welcomed by Syria's opposition, which has previously expressed frustration over Brahimi's refusal to take a firm position on excluding a future role for Assad.
"The statements of Lakhdar Brahimi have been long awaited," the opposition National Coalition's representative to Britain, Walid Saffour, told news agency Reuters. "He hasn't criticized Bashar Assad before, but now, after he despaired of Assad after his Sunday speech, he had no other alternative than to say to the world that this rule is a family rule, and more than 40 years is enough."
In a defiant speech on Sunday, Assad outlined plans for dialogue with the Syrian opposition, but specified that he wasn't willing to talk with rebel-affiliated groups, which he described as "killers" and "terrorists."
The plan has been rejected by the opposition and Western nations as being detached from reality. But, after three days of deliberation, Russia opted to endorse it on Wednesday.
In a statement, Russia's Foreign Ministry said Assad's proposals "affirmed the readiness for the launch of an inter-Syrian dialogue and for reforming the country on the basis of Syrian sovereignty."
Brahimi is scheduled to meet Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov and US Undersecretary of State William Burns in Geneva on Friday for fresh talks on how to end the conflict. The three sides will discuss how to implement a peace plan agreed in Geneva last year, which outlines the basis of a transitional government.
Major prisoner swap
Meanwhile fighting continued on the ground in Syria in the conflict which the UN estimates has now claimed more than 60,000 lives.
Wednesday also brought the first major prisoner swap of the conflict so far. Rebels freed 48 Iranian captives they had been holding since August in exchange for the government releasing more than 2,130 prisoners. The deal was reportedly brokered by Turkey, Qatar and Iran.
ccp/lw (AFP, Reuters)