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Annan To Meet Assad Over Peace Plan

Syria's embattled President Bashar al-Assad
International envoy Kofi Annan has been holding talks with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in Damascus.

The meeting on July 9 was expected to focus on Annan's peace plan for the conflict-torn Middle Eastern nation. Annan has admitted that the plan has so far not been embraced by the warring sides and has failed to end the past 16 months of bloodshed.

Ahead of the meeting with Annan, Assad told German television that U.S. support for what he described as antiregime "terrorists" was obstructing Annan's plan.

Assad also accused U.S. allies Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey of supplying the rebels seeking to overthrow him with weapons as well as financial and political support.

Assad claimed the majority of the "victims" of the violence in Syria were government supporters.

"If you want to know who killed, you have first to know who has been killed," he said. "You cannot tell about the criminal without knowing about the victims. Those victims that you are talking about -- the majority of them -- are government supporters. So how can you be the criminal and the victim at the same time?"

As for staying in power, Assad said "a president shouldn't run away from a challenge." However, he pointed out that a president cannot stay in power without "public support."

His comments came as Syria's navy fired live missiles from ships and helicopters over the weekend in what was described as an exercise to protect against foreign aggression.

'Catastrophic Assault'

Annan has acknowledged that his United Nations and Arab League-backed peace campaign has failed so far to result in a cease-fire or led to negotiations between the Assad regime and rebels calling for his resignation.

Annan has also stressed that Russia and Iran -- the Assad regime's two major allies -- should not be sidelined from Syrian peace efforts, saying the two countries' influence cannot be ignored.

Moscow and Tehran have declined to back Western calls for Assad to resign to allow a transitional government to take power.

Speaking on July 8, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton maintained that Syrian opposition fighters were growing more effective and the sooner the violence ended, the better the chances of sparing Syria's government from being potentially overrun by rebel forces.

"The future to me should be abundantly clear to those who support the Assad regime," she said. "The days are numbered and the sooner there can be an end to the violence and a beginning of a political transition process, not only will fewer people die, but there's a chance to save the Syrian state from a catastrophic assault that would be very dangerous, not only to Syria but to the region."

Also speaking on July 8, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Assad "must understand that things cannot continue as they are."

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and dpa
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