The end of the road
Kofi Annan's resignation means failure of the main diplomatic effort to end the violence in Syria, writes Graham Usher at the United Nations
Kofi Annan's resignation as the Arab League and UN's Special envoy for Syria on 2 August brought to a close five months of international peacemaking that tried and failed to resolve the Syrian crisis. There was regret in Annan's admission of defeat but, much more than that, there was blame.
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A Syrian woman looks on as she sits next to a destroyed military vehicle in the town of Atareb on the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria, Sunday
"As an envoy, I can't want peace more than the protagonists, more than the Security Council or the international community. At a time when we need -- when the Syrian people desperately need -- action, there continues to be finger-pointing and name-calling in the Security Council," he told reporters.
Annan cited two main causes for the failure of his mediation. The first was the decision taken by the Syrian regime and rebels (roughly at the time of his appointment in February) that their conflict would be decided by arms rather than international diplomacy.
Even as Annan stepped down the UN was declaring that the two sides were preparing for "the main battle" in Aleppo. The Syrian army was reportedly massing 20,000 soldiers while the rebels had secured fresh supply lines for arms and materiel from their bases in Turkey. This followed reports that the regime was using fighter jets against civilian areas, while the rebels had commandeered tanks. Some 20,000 have fled the city. Many more would like to.
But the second and -- Annan implied -- more significant reason was divisions on the Security Council that crippled implementation of the political transition plan for Syria he and it had agreed together with regional powers in Geneva on 30 June.
Russia refused to accept even the threat of sanctions against the regime, even though Annan had called for "consequences" for non-compliance in his plan. Western nations refused to accept anything less than the end of Bashar Al-Assad, even though that was a non-starter for Russia. And regional powers like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey began arming and financing the rebels, while publicly paying lip-service to the Geneva deal.
In an opinion piece in The Financial Times on 3 August Annan gave vent to his frustration. "Russia, China and Iran... must make concerted efforts to persuade Syria's leadership to change course and embrace a political transition, realizing the current government has lost all legitimacy", he wrote.
And the US, UK, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar need to recognise that any authentic political transition in Syria will have to include state institutions and communities still loyal to the government as well as to the opposition.
"This also means the future of Syria rises and falls on more than the fate of just one man. It is clear that Bashar Al-Assad must leave office. The greater focus, however, must be on measures and structures to secure a peaceful long-term transition to avoid a chaotic collapse".
Annan may have been speaking to the wall. The US and Russia simply blamed the other for his departure.
Who or what will replace him? UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has said he would like the role of special envoy filled. But it is unlikely the UN observer mission Annan created to monitor a non-existent "ceasefire" will survive its renewal deadline on 19 August: Russia and China want it to continue; Western and Arab states say that's pointless given the levels of violence. Renewal would require UN unanimity.
Nor is Annan's political vision of a negotiated settlement likely to endure. On 3 August Saudi Arabia and other Arab states submitted a resolution to the 193-member General Assembly slamming the Security Council for its failure to act on Syria. Ostensibly the resolution praises the Geneva plan. In practice it buries it.
While Annan held the Syrian government primarily responsible for the carnage in Syria, he also demanded that the opposition abide by a ceasefire and engage in an agreed political transition.
The Arab resolution, however, blames the Syrian government almost exclusively for the violence during the 17-month uprising. Earlier drafts also called for Al-Assad to step down and for UN member states to back Arab League sanctions against Syria. These proved regime changes too far for the BRIC nations and were dropped or diluted in the final text.
That resolution was passed by 133 votes to 12, with 33 abstentions. Russia and China were among the countries which voted against: India and Algeria amongst those which abstained. Saudi Arabia said the vote was "a victory for the Syrian people".
If so it is a symbolic one. General Assembly resolutions are demonstrative; they carry no legal weight. But they do give a sign of which way the political wind is blowing at the UN, which, when it comes to Syria, is away from diplomatic deadlocks on the Security Council and onto the battlegrounds of Aleppo, Damascus and Homs.
The day before the General Assembly voted President Barack Obama signed a secret order permitting the CIA to provide extra help to rebels in the fight to oust Al-Assad, though not yet their armament. In response the regime will surely seek a similar help from Russia, China and Iran.
At his Geneva press conference Annan repeated what he has said elsewhere: "there is no military solution" to the conflict in Syria. It's among the many ironies of his watch that it is now unlikely there can be anything other than a military solution to the conflict in Syria.