DAMASCUS: The Peace envoy, Mr Kofi Annan is pushing a plan for an interim government for Syria to include representatives of both sides in the conflict ahead of an international conference on Saturday, diplomats said.
The weekend meeting in Geneva, which was agreed only after wrangling between Moscow and Washington over both the agenda and the guest list, is to be attended by some regional governments but not by rival Middle East heavywights Iran and Saudi Arabia, diplomats said.
The diplomatic push came as the death toll in Syria soared, with 149 people killed on Wednesday alone on the heels if what human rights monitors said was the bloodiest week of the 15-month uprising against the President, Mr Bashar al-Assad's rule.
Mr Annan's proposed interim authority would exclude officials whose presence might jeopardise the transition "or undermine efforts to bring reconciliation," according to a summary given by one UN diplomat.
The major powers -- the US, Britain, France, China and Russia, a key Mr Assad ally -- generally back the plan that will be discussed at a meeting of foreign ministers Mr Annan has convened in Geneva on Saturday, the diplomats said.
"The language of Annan's plan suggests that Assad could be excluded but also that certain opposition figures could be ruled out," said a second UN diplomat, while stressing that there was nothing there that automatically excluded him.
"Russia's acceptance of this plan could be a new sign that it is ready to let Assad go," said the diplomat.
But the Russia's UN ambassador, Mr Vitaly Churkin said there was no guarantee that Annan's document would be agreed to in Geneva.
"Whatever Kofi Annan is going to prepare is going to be basis of discussion for the ministers," he told reporters.
Turkey, Qatar, Kuwait and Iraq will be at the meeting, but Iran and Saudi Arabia are not invited.
Both Mr Annan and the UN chief, Mr Ban Ki-moon wanted Iran to take part in the talks, as had Russia. But the United States strongly had opposed the Islamic republic's involvement.
Speaking in Helsinki on Wednesday, the US Secretary of State, Ms Hillary Clinton said she had been in regular contact with Mr Annan over his transition plan, without saying what it contained.
"We think it embodies the principles needed for any political transition in Syria that could lead to a peaceful, democratic and representative outcome reflecting the will of the Syrian people," she added.
US officials had warned that Ms Clinton could stay away from the Geneva meeting if transition from Assad's rule was not squarely on the agenda, despite Russian opposition to regime change.
Ms Clinton is to meet the Russian Foreign Minister, Mr Sergei Lavrov in Saint Petersburg on Friday for talks expected to be dominated by the Syria crisis.
Saturday's meeting in Geneva has taken on huge urgency as Annan's original six-point peace plan has stalled in the face of surging violence.