DAMASCUS, Syria — International envoy Kofi Annan tried to breathe new life Monday into his moribund peace efforts in Syria, saying he has reached a new framework with President Bashar Assad and would discuss it soon with rebel leaders. Opposition activists raised the death toll in the conflict to more than 17,000.
Annan, the architect of the primary international plan to end Syria's 16-month-old crisis, arrived in Iran late Monday for talks with leaders there. With the violence in Syria growing increasingly chaotic and diplomatic efforts faltering, Annan has said Iran, a staunch Syrian ally, must be a part of a solution to the conflict.
"We agreed on an approach which I will share with the armed opposition," Annan told reporters following a two-hour meeting with Assad which he described as "candid and constructive" Monday.
"I also stressed the importance of moving ahead with a political dialogue which the president accepts," he said. Annan did not disclose details of the framework he reached with Assad.
Annan's efforts to broker an end to the Syrian conflict as the U.N.-Arab League envoy have unraveled as the uprising that began with peaceful protests in March 2011 has spiraled toward civil war.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday that 17,129 people had killed since March 2011 are 11,897 civilians, 4,348 soldiers and 884 military defectors.
The group has a network of activists on the ground who document deaths and rights violations through eyewitness, accounts, hospitals and video footage. Another group, the Local Coordination Committees, says 14,841 civilians and fighters have been killed. The LCC does not report Syrian military deaths.
The government restricts journalists from moving freely, making it impossible to independently verify death tolls.
The violence has grown increasingly chaotic in recent months as rebels gain more arms, and it is difficult to assign blame for much of the carnage as the country spirals toward civil war. Activists have reported an average of about 100 people killed on some days in the past few weeks.
In an interview with the French daily Le Monde on Saturday, Annan acknowledged that the international community's efforts to find a political solution to the escalating violence in Syria have failed. He added that more attention needed to be paid to the role of longtime Syrian ally Iran, saying Tehran "should be part of the solution."
It is unclear what role Annan envisions for Iran, a staunch Syrian ally that has stood by Assad throughout the uprising. Tehran's close ties could make it an interlocutor with the regime, though the U.S. has often refused to let the Islamic Republic attend conferences about the Syria crisis.
Annan's six-point peace plan was to begin with a cease-fire in mid-April between government forces and rebels seeking to topple Assad, to be followed by political dialogue. But the truce never took hold, and almost 300 U.N. observers sent to monitor the cease-fire are now confined to their hotels because of the escalating violence.
"President Assad reassured me of the government's commitment to the six-point plan which, of course, we should move ahead to implement in a much better fashion than has been the situation so far," Annan told reporters Monday.
State-run news agency SANA said Assad discussed with Annan "mechanisms" that could ease the violence in Syria and told him the success of his plan hinged on regional countries ending their support for the "terrorism" in Syria. Damascus blames Arab Gulf countries Saudi Arabia and Qatar for fueling the crisis in Syria by funding the rebels.
Despite agreeing to a series of peace proposals in the past 16 months, the Syrian regime has repeatedly ignored its commitments and instead continued to wage a brutal crackdown on dissent. The rebels have also stepped up their attacks against government troops, dealing heavy losses among their ranks.
Annan said his team in Syria will follow up on the agreement reached with Assad.
"I also encourage governments and other entities with influence to have a similar effort," he added.
Russia, another strong of ally of the Syrian regime, said Monday it will not sign new weapons contracts with Syria until the situation there calms down.
Vyacheslav Dzirkaln, deputy chief of the Russian military and technical cooperation agency, told Russian news agencies on the sidelines of the Farnborough airshow south-west of London that Russia will continue, however, with previously agreed exports. (AP)