Kofi Annan all but acknowledged last night that his peace mission in Syria is nearing collapse, but insisted the world powers can salvage it if they overcome their divisions and step up the diplomatic effort first by threatening sanctions on Damascus for failing to implement his six-point plan.
Speaking at the United Nations in New York, Mr Annan also floated the launching of new multilateral effort to force the Syrian regime into compliance, which in turn would start a political transition and the easing out from power of President Bashar al-Assad. It would be led by a new "contact group" of UN Security Council members and regional powers such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran.
"For the sake of the people of Syria who are living though this nightmare, the international community must come together and act as one," Mr Annan told an emergency session of the UN General Assembly. It was a blunt message to Russia, which has resisted all moves that might lead to the removal of its ally Mr Assad.
"The process cannot be open-ended, and, the longer we wait, the more radicalised and polarised the situation will become," Mr Annan said of his peace plan. "If things do not change, the future is likely to be one of brutal repression, massacres, sectarian violence and even all-out civil war.
Mr Annan will discuss the contact group proposal with the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, today. However, the US has already expressed scepticsm, not least because it would involve sitting at the same table with Iran. The US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, said Iran was "part of the problem" in Syria, playing a spoiler role.
Just as Mr Annan was calling for unity, it began at once to evaporate before his eyes. While Britain and the US backed a new UN resolution that would threaten sanctions on the Syrian regime, Russia's ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, made clear Moscow's opposition to a resolution that focused only on punishing Damascus and not opposition groups that, he said, were also violating the ceasefire provisions of the Annan plan.
Russia also said it wanted to convene a multilateral conference on tackling the Syrian crisis "as soon as possible". But this initiative would seem to be in competition with Mr Annan's proposed contact group of nations.