UK & World News
Syria Transition Plan Met With Scepticism
Syrian state media and the opposition group have branded an international plan for a change of government in the country as a failure, just a day after it was agreed in Geneva.
World powers agreed on Saturday that a transitional government should be set up, which could include members of President Bashar al Assad's regime and the opposition.
But the so-called "action group" on Syria could not agree on whether President Assad could serve in the transition.
While the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insisted he must go, Russia and China said that Syrians themselves must decide how the transition happens.
Moscow and Beijing, which have twice blocked UN Security Council resolutions on Syria, both signed up to the final agreement that did not make any explicit call for Assad to cede power.
Al Baath, the newspaper of President Assad's ruling party, declared that the meeting had "failed".
"The agreement of the task force on Syria in Geneva on Saturday resembles an enlarged meeting of the UN Security Council where the positions of participants remained the same," it said. The opposition Local Coordination Committees (LCC) also said the outcome showed once again the failure to adopt a common position.
It called the transition accord "just one version, different in form only, of the demands of Russian leaders allied to the Assad regime and who cover it militarily and politically in the face of international pressure".
Burhan Ghalioun, a senior member and former head of the Syrian National Council (SNC), another opposition group, told pan-Arab television Al-Arabiya that "this is the worst international statement yet to emerge from talks on Syria."
According to the opposition coalition's official Facebook page, he described the plan as a "farce".
Ghalioun described as a "mockery" the notion that Syrians should negotiate with "their executioner, who has not stopped killing, torturing... and raping women for 16 months".
SNC spokeswoman Basma Qadmani told AFP in Ankara there were some "positive elements" in the deal, although "important elements remain too ambiguous... and the plan is too vague to foresee real and immediate action".
"The first one is that the final declaration says that the participants agree to say that the Assad family cannot rule the country any more, and therefore the Assad family cannot lead the transition period.
"The second positive element is the agreement that the transition should comply with the legitimate aspirations of Syrian people.
"For us this means that Assad should go because Syrian people have already said that they want Assad to go."
Former UK ambassador to the UN Sir Jeremy Greenstock told Sky News' Murnaghan programme that President Assad would be "foolish" to ignore the chance to negotiate and that defections from his regime would be crucial.
He said: "These things take time. Neither the Damascus regime nor the opposition in its various forms are really listening to what's happening outside. They're determined to win, 100% into what they're fighting for.
"That's foolish of President Assad because I don't see how he can stay in power unless he starts negotiating - he needs to think about that really carefully now.
"The important thing to watch is defections from the regime. We need to keep putting strong moral and sanctions pressure on the regime.
"We need to give an opportunity for members of the security forces to defect into Turkey or to the opposition."
Ribal al Assad, a first cousin of the Syrian president and director of the Organisation For Democracy and Freedom in Syria, told the programme that negotiation is the only route to ending the bloodshed.
He said: "We have to be pragmatic and start moving towards a process of peaceful transitional change.
"We have to have dialogue, we have to have a national unity government."
At least 120 people were killed, mostly civilians, on Saturday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Another nine people died on Sunday, it said.
Regime forces also shelled several neighbourhoods of the central city of Homs and blasts were heard in Damascus, the group said. Foreign Secretary William Hague admitted he was "deeply frustrated" by the ongoing bloodshed in Syria but he said important progress had been made at the weekend summit.
"We made one step forward that's worth having, which is that we agreed with Russia and China what a transitional government should look like, that there should be a transitional unity government in Syria, that that should be made up of people from the present government and opposition groups on the basis of mutual consent, which would of course exclude president Assad from that," he said.
But shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander described the transition deal as a "diplomatic fudge" and said properly enforced sanctions and a global arms embargo were needed.
He told Sky News: "Even diplomats have struggled to paper over the cracks that were apparent in Geneva. The international community is deeply divided and that divide is dangerous when you have people dying. "That's why it's imperative that we don't pretend that what emerged in Geneva is sufficient."