Wading among the rapids
Kofi Annan is again trying to drum up support for his peace plan. It's a lonely sojourn, writes Graham Usher at the United Nations
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Buildings damaged during clashes between Syrian rebel fighters and government forces, Al-Qusour neighbourhood, Homs|
In what may be the last throw of the dice for his diplomacy, on 9 July UN and Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan said he had agreed with President Bashar Al-Assad "to build an approach to end the violence" in Syria. He said he would take the idea to Iran, Iraq and the armed opposition.
It's going to be a hard sell. The Free Syrian Army (FSA) defines the goal of its struggle as total military victory over the Al-Assad regime rather than any negotiated settlement. Al-Assad says the same, only in reverse. And neither side has complied with the special envoy's peace plan for a political transition based on a ceasefire and negotiations.
Annan is experiencing resistance not only from the combatants. The UN monitoring mission (UNSMIS) in Syria -- which he created -- is now deployed for crisis management rather than conflict resolution. And the Security Council is split on whether the Syrian leader should even be part of a political solution.
How Annan will navigate these rapids to reach a peaceful shore is anyone's guess. Most observers think it beyond him, or any other diplomat.
On 6 July UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon recommended to the Security Council that it change the UNSMIS' focus from observing a non-existent truce to acting as mediators in the political conflicts that divide the two sides.
In truth few think the 120 or so civilian UN officials will prove any more effective in creating the conditions for a ceasefire than 300 unarmed military observers were in stewarding one. But the focus on mediation at least allows the UNSMIS mandate to be renewed when it expires on 20 July, sparing the UN the scandal of seeming to pull out its foot-soldiers while Syria descends further into war. "Nobody really wants to send a message that we believe there are no near-term prospects for a ceasefire," a council diplomat told Reuters.
And no wants a Security Council again broken over Syria. But that is what is shaping up.
In Geneva last month -- for the briefest moment -- it looked as though world powers, Arab states and Turkey had agreed that the Annan plan could be delivered via the establishment of a Temporary National Unity Government (TNUG), in which both government and opposition would serve. That understanding "unravelled within an hour of the agreement", commented one UN diplomat.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the TNUG couldn't possibly include Al-Assad given "the blood on his hands". Her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, said it couldn't possibly exclude him given its pledge to be open to government and opposition alike.
The breach has widened since. Addressing an opposition Friends of Syria meeting in Paris on 6 July Clinton called on the Security Council to pass a resolution imposing sanctions on Syria, invoking Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which could, ultimately, allow for military force.
But her main message was for the more than 100 countries in attendance to "reach out to Russia and China and not only urge but demand that they get off the sidelines and begin to support the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people". She went on: "I don't think Russia and China believe they are paying any price at all, nothing at all, for standing up on behalf of the Al-Assad regime."
Russia denied that characterisation of its stance on Syria. More accurately, it said, the insistence by the Friends of Syria that Al-Assad step down in any political transition contradicted the final document of the Geneva talks, which the US had signed up for. And -- unless there is a sea change in position -- any Security Council resolution against Syria that involves sanctions will draw a Russian-Chinese veto.
Annan cuts a lonely figure among these rifts. Syria's government and opposition have agreed his peace plan on paper only to destroy it on the streets. The UNSMIS documented massacres rather than a path to national reconciliation. And the Security Council grinds ever closer to gridlock: the US and Western countries unable to do much on Syria with Russia and China, but -- given their unwillingness to act outside the UN -- able to do even less without them.
"Clearly we have not succeeded," said Annan to France's Le Monde newspaper on 7 July. Asked why the world had failed to negotiate an end to the Syrian crisis, he said criticism too often focussed on Russia, which opposed foreign intervention while continuing to sell arms to Damascus. But "very few things are said about other countries that send arms and money [to Syria] and weigh on the situation on the ground".
Although he doesn't mention them by name, Saudi Arabia and Qatar finance the opposition and support its armament; the US delivers it "non-lethal aid"; and Turkey grants the FSA sanctuary on its soil. And these are just their public positions.
"All these countries say they want a peaceful solution, but they undertake individual and collective actions that undermine the very meaning of Security Council resolutions," Annan told Le Monde.