U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was meeting her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in St. Petersburg to discuss disagreements as Moscow demanded changes to a draft document submitted by Annan to which it had previously privately agreed.
The paper on "guidelines and principles" cites no names but implies Assad and close aides would have to step down. "A transitional unity government would have to exclude those whose continued presence and participation would undermine the credibility of the transition and jeopardise stability and reconciliation," it says.
Such tortuous language matters because it acknowledges Russia's refusal to back what it calls "regime change" while publicly supporting the part of Annan's six-point peace plan that calls for a "Syrian-led political process". Preparatory talks in Geneva on Friday stalled over Moscow's insistence on excising the reference to exclusion.
"Is this the Russians reneging on something they have already agreed to or just improving their negotiating position?" asked one official. "It's not entirely clear."
Syrian opposition groups insist there can be no agreement on transition without Assad surrendering power and leaving the country.
According to the document, seen by the Guardian, the establishment of a transitional government would be followed by a national dialogue and a review of Syria's constitutional order and the legal system. Next would come "free and fair multi-party elections for the new institutions and offices that have been established".
It also urges a "cessation of armed violence in all its forms and immediate, credible and visible actions to implement items two to six of Annan's six-point plan". These include the withdrawal of troops from cities, humanitarian and media access, and the release of prisoners.
The invitees to Saturday's Geneva talks are the foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council as well as Turkey and three Arab states. Iran and Saudi Arabia, key but controversial players, have not been asked.
The Annan document also addresses the sensitive question of continuity of Syrian governmental institutions and staff. "The public services must be preserved or restored. This includes the military forces and security services. However, all governmental institutions, including the intelligence services, have to perform according to human rights and professional standards and operate under a top leadership that inspires public confidence."
The document adds, without elaboration, that "accountability for acts committed during the present conflict must be addressed". It calls too for a comprehensive package for transitional justice, including compensation or rehabilitation for victims of the present conflict, steps towards national reconciliation and forgiveness."
Intellpuke: You can read this article by Guardian Middle East Editor Ian Black in context here: www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jun/29/syria-crisis-russia-us-disagree-political-exit