- - Tuesday, July 10, 2012

BAGHDAD — Syria’s president has agreed to a new U.N.-brokered peace plan focusing on calming the most violent areas of the country, then expanding to the entire nation, international envoy Kofi Annan said Tuesday.

At a news conference in Iran, Mr. Annan said the plan still must be presented to the opposition. But he said President Bashar Assad suggested trying to calm specific areas a day earlier during talks in the Syrian capital aimed at ending the violence, which activists say has killed more than 17,000 people since March 2011.

“[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,” Mr. Annan told reporters in Tehran, his first step on a tour of Syria’s staunchest allies.

He later met Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad to discuss ways to end the 16 months of bloodshed.

In Washington, the White House said it is aware of a Russian naval flotilla headed for a Syrian port but does not yet see it as cause for concern.

“We currently have no reason to believe this move is anything out of the ordinary, but we refer you to the Russian government for more details,” said Erin Pelton, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council.

The conflict in Syria has defied every international attempt to bring peace, including an earlier effort by Mr. Annan, and there was no sign that the plan the U.N. envoy described Tuesday will be a breakthrough. Although the government’s crackdown has made Mr. Assad an international pariah, he still has the support of strong allies such as Russia, Iran and China.

The international community has little appetite for military intervention of the type that helped bring down Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi last year, and several rounds of sanctions and other attempts to isolate Mr. Assad have done little to stop the bloodshed.

His latest efforts to reach out to Syria’s allies suggest he sees them as integral to solving the crisis. Mr. Annan’s appeal to Iran in particular appeared to oppose the approach of Washington, which has rejected Iran’s participation in helping solve the crisis.

Iran has provided Mr. Assad with military and political backing for years, and it has kept up its strong support for the regime since the Syrian uprising began.

U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said Washington doubts Iran will be able to play a constructive role.

“If the Iranian regime wants to stop giving direct material support to the Syrian killing machine, we would welcome that. We’re not at that point yet,” he said Monday in Washington.

On Tuesday, Mr. Annan said Iran has offered its support to end the conflict and must be “part of the solution.”

“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,” he told reporters in Tehran after meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi.