| UNITED NATIONS
UNITED NATIONS International mediator Kofi Annan will present the U.N. Security Council on Thursday with a new proposal in a last-ditch effort to rescue his failing peace plan for Syria, where 15 months of violence have brought the country to the brink of civil war.
Annan and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will address the 15-nation council behind closed doors at 3:00 p.m. EDT (1900 GMT). Ban and former U.N. chief Annan will also speak to the 193-nation General Assembly at 10:00 a.m., along with Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby.
The two U.N. meetings, which will focus on the escalating crisis in Syria, come as the Syrian opposition and Western and Gulf nations seeking the ouster of President Bashar al-Assad increasingly see Annan's six-point peace plan as doomed due to the Syrian government's determination to use military force to crush an increasingly militarized opposition.
The core of Annan's proposal, diplomats said, would be the establishment of a contact group that would bring together Russia, China, the United States, Britain, France and key regional players with influence on Syria's government and the opposition, such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Iran.
By creating such a contact group, envoys said, Annan would also be trying to break the deadlock among the five permanent council members that has pitted veto powers Russia and China against the United States, Britain and France and prevented any meaningful U.N. action on the Syrian conflict, envoys said.
It would attempt to map out a "political transition" for Syria that would lead to Assad stepping aside and the holding of free elections, envoys said. One diplomat said the idea was "vaguely similar" to a political transition deal for Yemen that led to the president's ouster.
The main point of Annan's proposal, they said, is to get Russia to commit to the idea of a Syrian political transition, which remains the thrust of Annan's six-point peace plan, which both the Syrian government and opposition said they accepted earlier this year, but have failed to implement.
"We're trying to get the Russians to understand that if they don't give up on Assad, they stand to lose all their interests in Syria if this thing blows up into a major regional war involving Lebanon, Iran, Saudis," a Western diplomat told Reuters. "So far the Russians have not agreed."
RUSSIAN EXILE FOR ASSAD?
Apart from lucrative Russian arms sales to Damascus, Syria hosts Russia's only warm water port outside the Soviet Union.
While Russia has repeatedly said it is not protecting Assad, it has given no indications that it is ready to abandon him.
Last week, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice suggested that if Russia continued to prevent the Security Council from putting pressure on Syria, states may have no choice but to consider acting outside the United Nations.
Diplomats said the West has been pushing Russia to abandon Assad in a series of recent meetings between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with their European and U.S. counterparts.
An unnamed diplomat leaked further details of Annan's proposal to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, who said that if the contact group agreed on a transition deal for Syria, it could mean Russian exile for Assad.
The Post article said another option for Assad would be to seek exile in Iran, Damascus' other staunch ally.
Annan's peace efforts have failed to halt the violence, as demonstrated by a recent massacre in Houla that led to the deaths of at least 108 men, women and children, most likely by the army and allied militia, according the U.N. Opposition members said there was a similar massacre on Wednesday in Hama province, with 78 people killed.
But some said there was still hope for Annan's peace plan.
"It may be on life support, but it's not dead," a senior Western diplomat said about the peace plan.
In what could be the first step toward the creation of Annan's contact group, Russia's Lavrov on Wednesday floated the idea of an international meeting on the Syrian crisis that would bring together the prime candidates for Annan's proposed contact group, including Iran.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, however, reacted coolly to the idea of including Iran, which she said was "stage-managing" the Syrian government assault on the opposition the United Nations says killed at least 10,000 people.
(Editing by Todd Eastham)