DAMASCUS, Syria -- International envoy Kofi Annan tried to breathe new life Monday into his moribund peace efforts in Syria, saying he has reached a new framework with President Bashar Assad and would discuss it soon with rebel leaders. Opposition activists raised the death toll in the conflict to more than 17,000.
Annan, the architect of the primary international plan to end Syria's 16-month-old crisis, arrived in Iran late Monday for talks with leaders there. With the violence in Syria growing increasingly chaotic and diplomatic efforts faltering, Annan has said Iran, a staunch Syrian ally, must be a part of a solution to the conflict.
"We agreed on an approach, which I will share with the armed opposition," Annan told reporters following a two-hour meeting with Assad which he described Monday as "candid and constructive."
"I also stressed the importance of moving ahead with a political dialogue which the president accepts," he said. Annan did not disclose details.
Annan's efforts to broker an end to the Syrian conflict as the United Nations-Arab League envoy have unraveled as the uprising that began with peaceful protests in March 2011 has spiraled toward civil war.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday that 17,129 people killed since March 2011 are: 11,897 civilians, 4,348 soldiers and 884 military defectors.
The group has activists on the ground who document deaths and rights violations through eyewitness, accounts, hospitals and video footage. Another group, the Local Coordination Committees, says 14,841 civilians and fighters have been killed. The LCC does not report Syrian military deaths.
The government restricts journalists from moving freely, making it impossible to independently verify death tolls.
It is unclear what role Annan envisions for Iran, a staunch Syrian ally that has stood by Assad. Tehran's close ties could make it an interlocutor with the regime, though the U.S. often has refused to let the Islamic Republic attend conferences about the crisis.
Annan's six-point peace plan was to begin with a cease-fire in mid-April between government forces and rebels seeking to topple Assad, to be followed by political dialogue. But the truce never took hold, and almost 300 UN observers sent to monitor the cease-fire are now confined to their hotels because of the escalating violence.
"President Assad reassured me of the government's commitment to the six-point plan which, of course, we should move ahead to implement in a much better fashion," Annan told reporters Monday.
Russia signaled Monday that it would not sign new weapons contracts with Syria until the situation there calms down.
Russia will continue with previously agreed exports, Vyacheslav Dzirkaln, deputy chief of the Russian military and technical cooperation agency, said.
Russia has blocked the UN's Security Council from taking strong, punitive action against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime and is seen as Syria's key arms supplier.