"Door of dialogue" with Syria still open: Annan aide
GENEVA (Reuters) - Kofi Annan, the joint U.N.-Arab League special envoy for Syria, remains in close contact with senior Syrian authorities, Russia and other powers over his proposals to end the fighting, his spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said on Thursday.
Annan spoke by telephone with Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Moualem, and with officials from states "with influence", said Fawzi, declining to give details.
"The door of dialogue is still open. We are still engaged with Syrian authorities over Mr. Annan's proposals," Fawzi said in Geneva. "He's been in telephone contact with the Syrian foreign minister during the course of the day ... as well as with international actors, member states with influence."
The former U.N. secretary-general held talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus last weekend on defusing the year-old revolt against his rule. Annan said on Wednesday he had received the president's reply but was seeking answers to outstanding questions.
Annan's plan outlined steps that urgently needed to be taken, including a halt to fighting, humanitarian access to civilians trapped by fighting and the start of a political dialogue with the Syrian opposition.
Syria said on Wednesday it had given a "positive" response to Annan's approach. A Middle Eastern diplomat characterized the reply from Damascus as "not a 'No'". But a senior Western diplomat in the region said Damascus spurned Annan's ideas.
Russia's foreign ministry said Annan had called Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, whose country is one of the few to retain close relations with Damascus and possible leverage with Assad, to discuss his mediation.
Annan "informed (Lavrov) about the work he has done with all sides to work out universally acceptable modalities of a political settlement of the situation in Syria", the Russian ministry said in a statement.
Lavrov reiterated Russian support for Annan's mission and said Moscow will "continue to lend him active assistance".
Annan, whose office is based in Geneva, will brief the United Nations Security Council by video conference from the Swiss city on Friday.
Flag-waving crowds took to the streets of Syrian cities on Thursday in an orchestrated show of loyalty to Assad on the first anniversary of an increasingly bloody revolt against his rule that has cost at least 8,000 lives.
Syria was in the dock again on Thursday at the U.N. Human Rights Council, coinciding with the first anniversary, part of an exercise where the records of all U.N. members are examined.
Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui, Syria's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, told the forum that his government was seeking political dialogue with the armed opposition, and was implementing reforms including freedom of expression as part of its new constitution.
"Comprehensive dialogue is the only means of ending the current crisis. Effectively, Syria has opened the door to dialogue with all parties. We welcome any effort in this regard," Hamoui told the Geneva forum.
"Nevertheless, the armed opposition, supported by foreign powers, refused this dialogue," he said.
Opposition leaders have dismissed Assad's professed commitment to reforms while he continues to try to eradicate unrest with tanks and troops.
Hamoui said armed opposition fighters had murdered, kidnapped and tortured Syrian civilians and damaged infrastructure including gas pipelines and railroads.
"Homs was terrorized on March 12 with a barbaric massacre at the hands of al Qaeda and terrorists, this against women and children," he said. He referred to dozens of bodies found this week whom opposition forces say were slain by government forces.
Delegations from states including Cuba, Iran, Nicaragua and North Korea took the floor at the session to praise the Syrian government's efforts. But Washington said it remained appalled by the "continually worsening human rights situation in Syria".
"Even as we speak, the Syrian people continue to suffer indiscriminate bombardment by heavy artillery, mass arrests, arbitrary detentions, torture and targeted killing of civilians," said U.S. political counselor Charles Blaha.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, additional reporting by Steve Gutterman in Moscow; Editing by Mark Heinrich)