Syria's Assad meets Annan, but gives little ground

Sat Mar 10, 2012 6:57pm EST
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By Alistair Lyon

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Former U.N. chief Kofi Annan held blunt talks with Bashar al-Assad this weekend but appeared to be making little headway, as the Syrian president blamed political bloodshed on "terrorists".

Annan on Saturday made proposals on stopping the violence between security forces and the opposition in the year-old revolt against Assad, access for humanitarian agencies, release of detainees and the start of political dialogue.

The talks were "candid and comprehensive", a spokesman quoted Annan as saying. He was to meet Assad again on Sunday before leaving Syria for Qatar.

Assad told U.N./Arab League envoy Annan Syria was "ready to make a success of any honest effort to find a solution for the events it is witnessing", state news agency SANA reported.

"No political dialogue or political activity can succeed while there are armed terrorist groups operating and spreading chaos and instability," he said.

Thousands have been killed in Syria since a popular uprising against Assad erupted a year ago.

While Annan and Assad discussed the crisis, Syrian troops were assaulting the northwestern city of Idlib, a rebel bastion.

"Regime forces have just stormed into Idlib with tanks and heavy shelling is now taking place," said an activist contacted by telephone, the sound of explosions punctuating the call.   Continued...

U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan (C), Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem (R) and Bouthaina Shaaban, adviser of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad attend a working lunch at a restaurant in the old Damascus March 10, 2012.REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri (SYRIA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST)