UN Peace Envoy Annan: Syria to Reply on Ending Violence

Kofi Annan says expects Assad response on proposals to end violence on Tuesday; Russia says will continue weapons sales to Syria, despite pressure from West to stop arming Assad regime.

Syrian officials are expected to respond Tuesday to a number of concrete proposals on how to end the violence in their homeland, UN peace envoy Kofi Annan said.

Annan, who is in Turkey, had visited Syria over the weekend.

"We expect to hear from the Syrian officials today," said Annan on Tuesday. "Once we have received their answer, we will know how to react."

The UN estimates the Syrian government's violent crackdown on dissent has killed more than 7,500 people so far. The killings add to the pressure on UN Security Council members who are meeting to decide what to do next to stop the violence. The international community's current effort, a peacemaking mission by Annan, is faltering, with both the Syrian government and the opposition refusing to talk to one another.

Annan expressed hope that a solution can be found to the crisis in remarks after meeting Tuesday with Burhan Ghalioun, the head of the main Syrian opposition group, the Syrian National Council.

"The whole world is coming together in working with us in resolving the situation and with goodwill and determination, I am hopeful, we will make progress," Annan said.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan extended full support to efforts by Annan. He said the next meeting of the so-called Friends of Syria group will take place in Istanbul on April 2. Turkey has expressed hope that Russia and China, who shunned the previous conference in Tunisia, would join.

Annan again urged Syria to stop its military crackdown.

"The killings and violence must cease," Annan said. "The Syrian people have gone through a lot and they deserve better."

Ghalioun said there was a "race against time" for a political and diplomatic solution.
"Some countries have promised arms for the Syrian opposition. We are racing against time, the main aim is for a political and diplomatic solution," said Ghalioun.

"But if this does not come about, then these countries will keep to their promise and give that aid to the opposition."

Ghalioun said the Council "would arm the opposition, if Syria maintains this attitude. That would both affect Syria and the region."

Ghalioun also called for "serious sanctions" against Syria if the regime does not stop its crackdown.

Meanwhile, Russia's Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said on Tuesday that Russia has no intention of curtailing military cooperation with Syria, despite calls from the West to stop arming President Bashar Assad's regime.

Russia will abide by existing contracts to deliver weapons to Syria despite Assad's year long crackdown on the opposition, he said.

"Russia enjoys good and strong military technical cooperation with Syria, and we see no reason today to reconsider it," Antonov told reporters.