The White House poured cold water Wednesday on international mediator Kofi Annan's plan to involve Iran in efforts to end the violence in Syria, where the government's 16-month crackdown on the opposition has left an estimated 17,000 dead.
"We reject that it's likely that Iran could play a constructive role," press secretary Jay Carney told reporters at his daily press briefing. "I would simply point to what the Iranian role has been thus far, and I think one would be hard pressed to plausibly suggest that it's been a constructive role," Carney said.
Iran has long been closely allied with Syria and strongly supports President Bashar Assad in the face of mounting pressure from Washington and its partners for him to end the bloodbath and quit power.
Annan, hunting for a way to break the international diplomatic logjam that has prevented coordinated action to halt the violence, said Tuesday that "Iran has a role to play."
"We are working very closely, obviously, with Kofi Annan," Carney said. For months, Washington has expressed support for the former U.N. secretary-general's ceasefire plan for Syria, while saying that not one of its core provisions has been implemented by the Assad regime. Republicans have sharply criticized the Obama administration for not doing more to protect Syrian civilians.
Top American officials, notably Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have publicly expressed increasing frustration with Russia and China for blocking action at the U.N. Security Council on the Syrian crisis.
"We're in regular consultations with the Russians and others about the steps we need to take to build a consensus around the idea of a transition, for which time is running short," Carney said.
"We believe very strongly that President Assad has no place in that transition," the spokesman said. Carney insisted that Assad was increasingly "being isolated" and underlined that high-level Syrian officials have defected.
Pressed on whether he was ruling out an Iranian role in Syria, Carney said "I'm not excluding anything."
"I'm simply saying that we are very clear-eyed about who are likely to be helpful participants in constructing that future, and who is not. Again, without ruling anything out, I'm simply focusing on where we think progress can be made."