The United States, European and Arab nations are set to deliver a stern warning to Syrian President Bashar Assad that he must agree to an immediate cease-fire and allow humanitarian aid into areas hardest hit by his regime's brutal crackdown on opponents, or face as-yet unspecified punishments and an increasingly emboldened and powerful armed resistance.
To spur negotiations in that direction, the Arab League and United Nations on Thursday jointly appointed Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary-general, to be their special envoy to Syria with a mandate to bring an end to the violence and promote a peaceful political solution.
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Annan will work on bringing an end to "all violence and human rights violations, and promoting a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis," the two bodies said in a statement.
On the eve of a major international conference on Syria in Tunisia, US, European and Arab officials worked out details of the demands in London on Thursday as the former United Nations chief, Kofi Annan, was named to be a joint UN-Arab League envoy to deal with the crisis. Russia and China, foes of any intervention, reiterated their opposition to an international resolution.
Diplomats said the "Friends of Syria" group meeting in Tunis on Friday would demand Assad's compliance. They said that failure on his part would result in tougher sanctions and predicted that his opponents would grow stronger unless he accedes and accepts a political transition that would see him leave power.
If Assad doesn't comply, "we think that the pressure will continue to build. ... I think that the strategy followed by the Syrians and their allies is one that can't stand the test of legitimacy ... for any length of time," US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters in London after meeting about a dozen of her foreign minister colleagues to prepare for the Tunis event.
"There will be increasingly capable opposition forces," she said. "They will from somewhere, somehow find the means to defend themselves as well as begin offensive measures."
Clinton and others ruled out any overt, direct lethal military aid to Assad's opponents, but her comments indicated that such steps were at least being considered if not already being done.
A draft of the Tunis conference's final document obtained by The Associated Press calls on "the Syrian government to implement an immediate cease-fire and to allow free and unimpeded access by the United Nations and humanitarian agencies to carry out a full assessment of needs in Homs and other areas."
Homs, Syria's third-largest city, has been under a fierce government attack for nearly three weeks.
The draft, which is still subject to change, also demands "that humanitarian agencies be permitted to deliver vital relief goods and services to civilians affected by the violence." More than 5,400 people have been killed in the nearly year-old uprising.
Russia and China have vetoed two UN Security Council resolutions backing Arab League plans aimed at ending the conflict in Syria and condemning Assad's crackdown.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's office said he called his Chinese counterpart on Thursday and they "reaffirmed the joint position of Russia and China."
Both countries support "a speedy end to any violence in Syria and the launch of inclusive dialogue between the authorities and the opposition without preconditions for a peaceful settlement that excludes foreign interference in Syrian affairs," the ministry said.
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