United Nations: UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan is battling to save an international meeting on the Syria crisis set for Saturday following Russian objections to his proposed transition plan, diplomats said.

Annan has called talks between senior officials from Russia, the United States, France, Britain and China in Geneva on Friday in a bid to rescue the meeting of foreign ministers the next day, diplomats said.

A meeting between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Saint Petersburg on Friday could also decide the fate of future international action on Syria.

Clinton and the foreign ministers of Britain and France, William Hague and Laurent Fabius, have told Annan there will be no point holding the Geneva meeting unless an accord on a transition plan can be guaranteed, diplomats said.

The Geneva conference with Clinton, Lavrov, Hague, Fabius, China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and the foreign ministers of Qatar, Turkey and Kuwait had been intended as a public show of support for Annan's transition plan.

Annan announced the meeting on Tuesday having said he would only call the ministers to Geneva if he was sure it would unite around a plan to end the worsening conflict that Syrian activists say has left more than 15,000 dead.

Russia, the last major ally of President Bashar al-Assad, has objected to a proposal which could limit membership of a transitional unity government in Syria, diplomats said.

Annan's plan, said the interim government could include Assad officials and the opposition "but would exclude from government those whose continued presence and participation would undermine the credibility of the transition and jeopardize stability and reconciliation."

Diplomats have said this means that Assad could be ruled out of the government but did not automatically exclude his participation. Opposition figures could also be kept out under the same formula, they stressed.

Annan has spoken with all of the foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the Security Council in the past 24 hours in a bid to end the dispute, diplomats said.

"There is now a serious threat to the Geneva meeting," one UN diplomat told speaking on condition of anonymity, because of the sensitivity of the talks. "The Russians are back pedalling," commented a western official.

"Russia signalled its agreement early on, that was what we were told and that was the basis for the meeting. Since then we are getting some mixed messages that the Russians may be resigning from that position," said a senior UN diplomat.


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