Western and Gulf Arab nations have dismissed a Russian plan for peace and reform in Syria and said it will not form the basis for talks in Vienna this weekend.
"We are aware of the Russian proposals," British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft told reporters at the United Nations on November 11. "The eight-point plan itself is not central to the discussions in Vienna, but Russia is."
Russian diplomats have emphasized that the plan presents Moscow's "vision" and "ideas," and that Russia was open to alternative proposals from the 20 or so countries participating in the peace talks on November 14 in the most significant international effort to date to end the four-year Syrian war.
Russia's plan, which was seen by the AP and Reuters news agencies, called for drafting a new Syrian constitution that would be voted on and followed by an early presidential election.
The plan made no mention of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad stepping down during the political transition, however, a key demand of the West and Gulf Arab states participating in the talks.
Some Western diplomats dismissed the Russian plan because it does not clarify Assad's fate.
One UN Security Council diplomat described the Russian reform proposal to AFP as "back-of-the-envelope stuff," and said it was "not the answer."
The plan called for setting up a constitutional commission to draft Syrian political reforms, and specified that Assad would not be allowed to chair that commission. But it does not specifically prohibit him from running for president again.
"That just isn't enough," the UN diplomat told the AFP agency. "It has to be part of the final deal that the end point will not have Assad in power."
Diplomats said Saudi Arabia, in particular, is insisting on a clear commitment from Iran and Russia that Assad will step down.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir emphasized the kingdom's position in remarks to reporters in Riyadh on November 11.
"If Bashar al-Assad's departure is not completed in a peaceful manner, then it will be completed in a military manner," he said.
But Russia and Iran have maintained that the Syrian people, not peace negotiators, should decide Assad's fate through elections.
Iranian President Hassan Rohani repeated Tehran's position on November 11 in an interview with French media, AFP reported, and stressed that negotiators should focus on other matters.
It is "not a question of a person, it is a question of security and stability," he said.
"We must all make efforts to eradicate terrorism in Syria and ensure that peace and stability return," and the best way to eliminate terrorists is to keep a strong government in Damascus, he said.
"What country has managed to fight terrorism without a strong state?"
With reporting by AFP and Reuters