GENEVA — The United States and Russia failed on Friday to bridge differences over a plan to ease Syrian President Bashar Assad out of power, end violence and create a new government. That set the stage for the potential collapse of a key multinational conference that was to have endorsed the proposal.
Also, Syria’s opposition on Friday reported the deadliest 24-hour period so far — with 139 civilian deaths — and said rebel fighters had seized two Syrian generals, one of them the highest-ranking officer to fall into insurgent hands.
On the eve of today’s conference, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met one-on-one for about an hour in St. Petersburg, Russia, but could not reach agreement on key elements of U.N. envoy Kofi Annan’s proposed plan for a Syrian political transition, officials said.
A senior U.S. official traveling with Clinton said areas of “difference and difficulty” remain and was not optimistic that the gathering in Geneva would produce agreement.
The inconclusive results of the Clinton-Lavrov meeting may presage the unraveling of Annan’s plan to end 16 months of brutal violence in Syria by creating a national unity government to oversee the drafting of a new constitution and elections.
The U.S. and its allies attending the conference are adamant that the plan will not allow Assad to remain in power as part of the transitional government, but Russia insists that outsiders cannot dictate the ultimate solution to the crisis.