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If anything resembling Annan’s plan takes hold, it would surely mean the end of Assad’s presidency. The opposition has demanded his departure and has rejected any talk of him staying in power. Yet it also would grant regime representatives the opportunity to block Sunni extremists and others in the opposition that they reject.

The United States blamed the collapse of the process last summer on Russia for vetoing a third resolution at the U.N. Security Council that would have applied world sanctions against Assad’s government for failing to live by its provisions.

Russia insisted that the Americans couldn’t demand Assad’s departure. It also worried about opening the door to military action, even as Washington offered to include language in any U.N. resolution that would have expressly forbidden outside armed intervention.