BAGHDAD (AP) — International envoy Kofi Annan reached out to Damascus' regional allies Iran and Iraq on Tuesday in a bid to secure their support for his faltering peace plan to end the 16-month-old Syrian crisis.
After meeting with senior Iranian officials in Tehran earlier in the day, Annan traveled to Baghdad for talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The diplomatic outreach is part of Annan's push to rescue deeply troubled international efforts to broker a political solution to the conflict in Syria, which activists say has killed more than 17,000 people.
Annan's trips follow a meeting Monday in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar Assad during which the two agreed to a step-by-step plan to first contain the violence in the most affected areas of the country and then expand to the nation as a whole.
The U.N. envoy recently has pushed for a more prominent role in those efforts for Iran, a close and longtime Syrian ally that has provided Assad with military and political backing for years. Tehran has kept up its strong support for the regime since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011.
"My presence here proves that I believe Iran can play a positive role and should therefore be a part of the solution in the Syrian crisis," Annan told reporters in Tehran after meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi.
He said that he has "received encouragement and cooperation" from the Iranian government, he said but did not specify what support Tehran has offered.
Anti-regime fighters have dismissed any role for Iran in a plan they and some others say has little hope of succeeding. The United States, meanwhile, has rejected Iranian participation in international meetings on the Syrian crisis.
Baghdad, meanwhile, has tried to not take sides in the conflict, although the U.S. has voiced concerns about Iran possibly shipping weapons and supplies across Iraqi airspace to Syria. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said last week there are fears about the bloodshed spilling over into neighboring countries, and cited intelligence about al-Qaida militants from Iraq heading into Syria to aid the uprising.
Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh welcomed Annan's visit, and said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, will offer solutions for the crisis but did not provide any details. Al-Maliki and Annan were meeting in Baghdad late Tuesday afternoon.
Annan brokered a six-point peace plan earlier this year, but it has struggled to gain traction on the ground.
Government forces and rebels have widely disregarded a cease-fire that was to begin in April, and spreading violence has kept nearly 300 U.N. observers monitoring the truce stuck in their hotels in Syria.
After a two-hour meeting with Assad on Monday, Annan said the men had agreed on "an approach" to stop the violence, and that the diplomat would share it with the armed opposition.
He declined to provide more details on the new framework Tuesday in Tehran, saying only that "it relates to the efforts to end the violence.
"He (Assad) made a suggestion of building an approach from the ground up in some of the districts where we have extreme violence — to try and contain the violence in those districts and, step by step, build up and end the violence across the country," Annan said. "The details (have) to be worked out with the opposition. We have to discuss this with them. That's why I can't go into details."
But the U.N. envoy stressed the urgency of finding a solution to the crisis.
"If we don't make a real effort to resolve this issue peacefully and it were to get out of hand and spread in the region, it can lead to consequences that none of us could imagine," he said.
Since Assad took power in 2000 following the death of his father, Hafez, he has deepened cultural, political and economic ties with Iran, making it Syria's strongest regional ally. Tehran, in turn, has boosted Assad's military, providing it with advanced communications technology and weapons, as well as sending elite military advisers.
All of this makes Iran unlikely to support change in Syria.
Salehi, Iran's foreign minister, said Tehran backs the rights of the Syrian people but opposes military intervention, and blamed the conflict's increasingly chaotic violence on the meddling of foreign powers.
"Unfortunately, the unwise interference of others has caused the situation in Syria to remain critical," he said. "The worsening of the situation should not happen. It would not benefit anyone in the region."
The Syrian conflict has spilled outside the border several times. On Tuesday, the Lebanese army said shells were fired into Lebanon from Syria during an overnight exchange of fire along the countries' border.
The Red Cross and Lebanon's NNA state news agency say a Lebanese and two Syrians died — one of them from a heart attack and two others when their motorcycle hit a car in the Wadi Khaled area, where the clashes took place Tuesday.
The Lebanese government decided at a Cabinet meeting Monday night to boost the army's presence along the volatile border, where shells fired from Syria have killed and wounded several Lebanese in the past few weeks.
Syria says the frontier is being used for smuggling weapons to rebels.
Dareini reported from Tehran, Iran. Associated Press writers Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad and Zeina Karam contributed to this report from Beirut.