US, Gulf Arabs urge Annan to draw up Syria `next steps`

The US and Gulf Arab states urged envoy Kofi Annan to produce a "timeline for next steps" in his peace plan for Syria.

Riyadh: The United States and Gulf Arab
states on Saturday urged envoy Kofi Annan to produce a "timeline for
next steps" in his peace plan for Syria if President Bashar
al-Assad fails to stop the bloodshed.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who met her
counterparts from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the
United Arab Emirates and Oman at a meeting in Riyadh, voiced
concern over Syria`s continued deadly crackdown on dissent.

She also slammed Iran for its alleged support for the
crackdown and appeared cautious about talks between Tehran and
the United States and five other powers that she confirmed
would be held in Istanbul on April 13.

In a press conference, Clinton voiced renewed scepticism
about Syria`s acceptance of Annan`s six-point peace plan,
which calls on Syrian forces to withdraw from besieged cities
and silence their guns.

"And as of today, regime forces continue to shell
civilians, lay siege to neighbourhoods, and even target places
of worship," Clinton said on the eve of international talks in
Istanbul aimed at helping the Syrian opposition.

Clinton said dozens of top Arab and Western officials
tomorrow would discuss further steps to pressure Assad, to
provide humanitarian aid and promote "an inclusive,
democratic" political transition.

The first US strategic cooperation forum with the six Gulf
Cooperation Council (GCC) countries issued a joint statement
urging Annan "to determine a timeline for next steps if the
killing continues."

Annan`s plan calls for a commitment to stop all armed
violence, a daily two-hour humanitarian ceasefire, media
access to all areas affected by the fighting, an inclusive
Syrian-led political process, a right to demonstrate, and
release of arbitrarily detained people.

In a speech to the forum, Clinton stressed Washington`s
"rock solid and unwavering" commitment to the security of the
Sunni Muslim-led Gulf Arab monarchies, which are wary of
non-Arab Shiite Muslim Iran.

Raising security ties from a bilateral to a multilateral
level, Clinton was breaking new ground in taking part in the
first strategic cooperation forum between Washington and the

She looked to taking "practical and specific steps to
strengthen our mutual security, such as helping our militaries
improve interoperability, cooperate on maritime security and
missile defence, and coordinate responses to crises."

US officials have said it is a US "priority" to help the
GCC build a "regional missile defence architecture" against
what they see as a looming ballistic missile threat from Iran.


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