UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, the new U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria, said Wednesday he hopes to meet with President Bashar Assad and will "plead" with him to engage with the international effort to help find a peaceful solution to the nearly year-old conflict.
Annan told reporters after meeting Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that others have different ideas of how to end the conflict — an apparent reference to a military solution — but that a "peaceful solution through dialogue and a speedy one" was the way to go.
"The message is clear — that the killing and violence must stop," Annan said. "Humanitarian agencies must be given access to do their work ... (and) "there's a need for dialogue between all actors in Syria."
Annan, who served as the U.N.'s secretary-general from 1997 to 2006 and won the Nobel Peace Prize, said he would travel to the Middle East soon. U.N. diplomats said he planned to fly to Cairo on Friday to meet with Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby.
Annan met Assad several times while he was U.N. chief but he said he hasn't been in touch for several years. He said he expects to visit Damascus "fairly soon," but later cautioned that "time will tell" whether the Syrians allow him into the country.
Ban said he was counting on all states to support Annan's mission, including the 15 on the U.N. Security Council, which has been deeply divided over Syria. Russia and China have vetoed two resolutions condemning the Syrian government's bloody crackdown and calling for Assad to step down.
The Syrian government requested information about the objectives of Annan's mission and Ban said an official letter was on its way to Assad. Annan said he plans to meet with Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari while in New York.
Ban strongly urged Syrian authorities "to extend their full cooperation" to Annan.
The secretary-general said he was disappointed that Syria has not allowed U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos to visit Syria "despite the clear need and despite the repeated commitment by the government that she would be welcome."
Diplomats said the Syrian rejection of an Amos visit came despite Russia's lobbying the Syrian regime to allow it, which several diplomats saw as significant.
Several Western diplomats said it would be a major mistake for Syria if it prevents Annan from meeting Assad. It would put Damascus' major ally, Russia, in a very difficult position and could have potential repercussions in the Security Council.
Annan said "if we are going to succeed, it is extremely important that we all accept that there be one process of mediation, the one both the U.N. and Arab League have asked me to lead."
The Russians had proposed that the government and opposition meet in Moscow but that was rejected by the opposition. It wasn't clear if Annan was referring to another potential mediator — or just trying to warn off any others.
Earlier this month, the U.N. General Assembly asked Ban to support the Arab League's efforts to promote a peaceful solution to the crisis, including through appointment of a special envoy to Syria.
The assembly resolution, approved by a vote of 137-12, backed an Arab League plan calling for Assad to step down and strongly condemning human rights violations by his regime. But it was unclear whether implementing that resolution would be part of Annan's mandate.