In late February 2012, roughly a year after the beginning of the crisis in Syria, the UN and Arab League appointed former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan as Joint Special Envoy for the UN and the Arab League for Syria, with the aim of ending the violence in the country and advancing a solution to the crisis. In this capacity, Annan drew up a peace plan that entailed an internationally overseen ceasefire. Though it garnered support in both the international arena and from the Syrian regime, the plan failed to end the violence, which only increased and which has by now claimed the lives of thousands of Syrians.
On August 2, 2012, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced that Annan had effectively tendered his resignation, choosing not to renew his mandate as joint special envoy after it expired at the end of the month. According to a statement by Ban, the resignation stemmed from Annan's frustration that Syria had failed to adopt his peace plan, even though, according to Ban, "it still remains the best hope for the people of Syria."
During the past year, the international community has remained divided on the Syrian issue, preventing any UN action from being taken. While the U.S., Europe, Turkey and the Arab League called to oust Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, and, to this end, advanced resolutions to exert political and financial pressure against his regime in the Security Council, Russia and China blocked all such attempts using their veto. Together with Iran, which is not a permanent member of the Security Council, Moscow and Beijing demanded that the Assad regime and the Syrian opposition be treated the same, and claimed that Assad's fate is a domestic Syrian matter.
In seeking to strike a compromise between the divided sides, Annan, in fact, adopted the stance of Russia, China, and Iran: He did not call on Assad to step down nor did he call for sanctions against Assad's regime as part of any binding Security Council resolution. Moreover, Annan even asked that Iran be involved in the international efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis. In this way, he made it possible for the Moscow-Beijing-Tehran bloc to cling unwaveringly to its position, and to thwart any international move that might force Damascus to make concessions and meet the demands of both the global community and the Syrian people. In so doing, he facilitated Russia's campaign to regain its former status as a key world power opposite the U.S. It should be noted that Annan spoke out more than once against the Assad regime, placing upon it most of the responsibility for the situation, but failed to translate this criticism into actions.
Special Envoy Kofi Annan and Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad (Damascus, July 9, 2012)
A few months after he was appointed joint special envoy, Annan became the target of criticism by both the Syrian opposition and by other elements in the Arab world and the international community, who claimed he was serving the Assad regime and adopting the stances of Russia and Iran – to the point of calling him "an enemy of the Syrian people." They attacked his decision to visit Syria, Russia, and Iran several days after failing to attend the July 6, 2012 "Friends of Syria" conference in support of the Syrian opposition, in which hundreds of countries and organizations participated. Accusing him of being party to the massacres in Syria, they noted his past failures in resolving previous world crises. However, despite the criticism, official elements in the world continued to support his plan, noting that it is the only relevant solution.
The following report will discuss Annan's activities as Joint Special Envoy for the UN and the Arab League for Syria, as well as the criticism he has faced for these activities.
Annan's Plan: Internationally Monitored Ceasefire And Political Dialogue
Several weeks after his appointment, Annan drew up a six-point peace plan that was accepted by both the Syrian regime and the international community; the Security Council Presidency supported it in a March 21, 2012 announcement. The plan calls for the Syrian authorities to:
1) commit to work with the Envoy in an inclusive Syrian-led political process to address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people...
2) commit to stop the fighting and achieve urgently an effective United Nations supervised cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties to protect civilians and stabilize the country... Similar commitments would be sought by the Envoy from the opposition and all relevant elements...
3) ensure timely provision of humanitarian assistance to all areas affected by the fighting, and to this end, as immediate steps, to accept and implement a daily two-hour humanitarian pause...
4) intensify the pace and scale of release of arbitrarily detained persons, including especially vulnerable categories of persons, and persons involved in peaceful political activities...
5) ensure freedom of movement throughout the country for journalists and a non-discriminatory visa policy for them;
6) respect freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully as legally guaranteed.
In early April, upon Damascus's acceptance of his plan, Annan declared that all armed Syrian forces must withdraw from Syrian cities by April 10, in preparation for the implementation of a ceasefire to take effect two days later. He also called for the dispatch of international observers to oversee peacekeeping efforts in the country. With the Syrian regime agreeing to admit them, the Security Council decided on April 20 to send some 300 unarmed military observers for an initial period of 90 days, to be joined by civilian experts in the fields of politics, human rights, administration and communications. Shortly thereafter, UN observers began arriving in Syria and patrolling the streets.
Annan Accuses Damascus Of Escalating Violence – But Continues To Work With It
Following the adoption of Annan's plan, it initially appeared that Syrian military forces were withdrawing from some of the cities, and that the violence was subsiding – but such hopes were quickly dashed. The fighting on the ground soon intensified, with the number of dead and wounded growing by the day. In addition to ongoing clashes between the military and the armed opposition forces, terrorist elements carried out attacks against civilian and government targets, with high death tolls.
UN observer and Syrian tanks play hide-and-seek
Acknowledging that the sides were not living up to their commitments, Annan placed the lion's share of the blame on the Syrian regime, even accusing it of deceit. Diplomatic sources reported that at an April 24 closed meeting of the Security Council, Annan said that areas of Syria visited by UN observers were generally calm, but that as soon as the observers departed, regime forces begin attacking the area vacated. Annan's spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said it was possible that regime forces had killed Syrians who met with the observers.
At a May 8 press conference in Geneva, Annan said: "The government bears a greater responsibility [than other parties] to do whatever it can to reduce the severity of the violence. [However,] the armed groups and the opposition must [also] think about the Syrian people, which is the victim of both sides. The opposition must give peace a chance, and meet [the demand for a ceasefire], so that that the violence can stop and dialogue can begin."
Similarly, at a June 2 Arab League ministerial committee meeting, Annan said: "The specter of an all-out war with a worrying religious dimension grows by the day... All sides in the Syrian conflict must work responsibly to stop the violence, but the greatest responsibility falls on the government."
However, despite the deteriorating situation and his announcement that the Syrian regime was not abiding by its commitments, Annan did not hesitate to continue working with Damascus, even praising its cooperation with the UN observers. In late May, he visited Syria, where he met with Assad, Foreign Minister Farouq Al-Shar', and others. Annan called on the regime to take steps that would prove it was serious in its intent to resolve the crisis peacefully, but added that the same call applied to all those who bore arms in Syria. At a meeting with Al-Shar', Annan praised the regime's cooperation in ensuring the safety of the observers and in facilitating the progress of the peace plan, for allowing journalists to enter the country, and for permitting humanitarian organizations to operate. During his visit, Annan also emphasized to Assad that freedom of expression and the right to peaceful protests must be upheld.
Annan Works To Advance A Unified International Position While Involving Russia, China, Iran
During the long months of crisis, the international community failed to formulate a unified position on Syria due to the positions of Russia and China. Since his appointment as joint special envoy, Annan appeared to have been quite soft on these two countries – as well as on Iran, Syria's greatest ally, which he wished to involve in solving the crisis. Conversely, the West saw these three countries as part of the problem rather than the solution, so much so that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the only way to change Russia and China's position was to make them understand that they would pay a price for it. She also accused Russia of supplying military jets to the Syrian regime and of helping it kill civilians. Russia, on the other hand, accused Arab, Muslim and Western countries of financing and arming the Syrian opposition, and thereby intensifying the violence in the country.
Kofi Annan with Russian President Vladimir Putin
The international deadlock drove Annan to launch a new initiative in early June, which was also fruitless. He proposed to establish an international "action group" – made up of countries that have influence over the Syrian regime and opposition, including Iran – that would work towards a solution. The West supported the initiative, but refused to involve Iran. The group convened in Geneva on June 30, 2012, and included Russia and China, which had never taken part in such an international effort outside the Security Council. However, Iran was excluded, as was Saudi Arabia – which is among the leaders of the Arab campaign against Assad – probably as "compensation" for Iran's exclusion. Thus Annan forewent Iranian involvement, but balanced it by excluding Saudi Arabia. The group reached an agreement on a transitional phase in Syria, which includes ceasing the violence and disarming the armed groups; continuity of governmental institutions; conducting intra-Syrian dialogue; establishing an agreed-upon transitional government including both regime and opposition members; reexamining the constitution; and ultimately holding elections. In his announcement on the agreement, Annan stressed that the solution would come via peaceful dialogue, and that Assad's fate would be determined by the Syrians alone. He said further: "I would doubt that the Syrians… would select people with blood on their hands to lead them." He expressed hope that the crisis would be resolved within one year. The Syrian regime welcomed the agreement, but the opposition rejected it.
The vague wording of this agreement left the issue of Assad's future standing. Unlike the West, which consistently demanded that Assad step down, Annan stressed that the decision must be left to the Syrians. The Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar claimed that Annan and Russia were clearly adopting Assad's position: "Until now, there have been at least two elements, aside from the [Syrian] regime and its president, who have said what Assad says... One is Moscow, which wields the weapon of veto in the Security Council, and the other is Annan, who has [presented] the initiative, the plan and the proposal for a transitional phase, in order to implement the six points [of his plan]. Unlike the Americans and Europeans, and the Arabs who oppose the regime, [Russia and Annan] say that Assad's ouster is an internal Syrian matter."
Even after the Action Group conference in Geneva, Annan continued to demand the involvement of Russia and Iran in solving the crisis and warned against "the destructive competition" in the international community on the Syrian matter. Annan told the British Guardian on July 6, 2012: "Russia does have influence and can encourage the Syrian government to implement fully the six-point plan and Security Council resolutions, but this task cannot be left to the Russians alone. I expect Iran to play a role. Those governments – the U.S. and the Friends of Syria – that have influence with the opposition should also play a role. If they continue with this destructive competition everyone will lose. They [the West] accuse the Russians of arming the [Syrian] government. The Russians accuse them of arming the opposition and flooding the place with weapons. This is instead of coming together to see what can be done."
In a July 7, 2012 interview with the French newspaper Le Monde, Annan intensified his tone towards countries who oppose the Syrian regime: "Very little is known about other countries that send money and weapons [to Syria]... These countries say they want a peaceful solution, but they undertake individual or group initiatives that undermine Security Council resolutions. Focusing on Russia alone greatly angers the Russians."
Annan continued his activity vis-à-vis the Syrian regime and its supporters, and received their praises. On July 9, 2012, one week after the Geneva conference, he made a surprise visit to Syria and spoke to Assad about ending the violence and starting intra-Syrian dialogue. Both sides described the meeting as positive, and Annan announced he would also meet with the armed opposition and discuss a ceasefire as he did with Assad. Annan then travelled to Tehran, seeking its support in finding a peaceful solution to the crisis. In a press conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, he said: "I have been greatly encouraged by Iran, and I hope we will cooperate to [promote] a solution to the crisis and prevent it from spreading throughout the region." On July 17, 2012, Annan visited Russia and met with President Putin, who praised him highly: "[Annan is] a very popular and respected professional... We supported and still support all efforts to restore peace."
Kofi Annan with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Russia Exploits Syrian Crisis To Strengthen Position Vis-À-Vis The West
Kofi Annan's continued cooperation with Russia – without demanding that this country soften its position and explicitly call for Assad to step down – enabled Russia to stand its ground and prevent an increase in international pressure on the Syrian regime. Annan's friendly visits to Iran and his repeated calls to include it in international efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis, also helped bolster the pro-Assad axis.
Russia's unyielding stance is presumably intended to strengthen its position in the world, which it believes is controlled by a U.S.-led West, by placing it at the head of a rival bloc, as it was before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Along with Russia stand China, which also used its veto in the UN Security Council, and Iran, which is the primary political, military, and financial supporter of the Assad regime and continues to provoke the West with its nuclear program.
An expression of Russia's outlook can be seen in Foreign Minister Lavrov's response to criticism leveled by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarding the transfer of combat helicopters from Russia to Syria. Lavrov said that his country would not apologize, because it had not violated any international laws or Security Council resolutions, and added: "Maybe the problem lies in the American mentality... which says: 'We Americans are number one in the world...' The justification for this belief is diminishing by the day... It has become apparent that the Americans cannot solve the world's political and economic problems on their own." Lavrov claimed that this mentality was embodied in the unilateral sanctions on Iran, Syria, Cuba, and other countries; and in the U.S.'s attempt to impose its laws on foreign countries that do not violate any international laws, which, he said, represents a dangerous and negative international trend.
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Annan Criticized For Cooperating With Assad, Russia, Iran
Annan's conduct on the Syrian matter and his cooperation with Assad, Russia and Iran triggered harsh criticism from the Syrian opposition and from Arab and international elements who called him an enemy of the Syrian people.
Syrian Opposition: Annan Is An Enemy Of The People; Enables Ongoing Massacre
The Syrian opposition, both armed and political, claimed that Annan was serving the Syrian regime and was party to the acts of slaughter against the people. It called to acknowledge the failure of his plan and attacked his calls to involve Iran in the international efforts. The Syrian opposition did not spare its criticism from the Arab League and the international community as well.
On Friday, July 13, 2012, after Annan's visit to Syria and Iran, and following a massacre in the village of Al-Treimsa in the Hama area that took place on that day, Syrians in various provinces held protests at which they called "down with Annan, the servant of Syria and Iran." At a demonstration in Hama, protestors raised a banner which read "Annan, your plan has no place anymore. You are the cause of the massacres. You protect The Hulagu of the regime."
Protesters in Kafr Nabl
The Turkey-based Syrian National Council (SNC) – the main body of the political opposition outside Syria – issued a communique criticizing Annan's decision to meet with the Syrian regime and expressing outrage at his absence from the Friends of Syria conference, which took place several days prior in Paris. The SNC also questioned his call to include Iran in the international Action Group, claiming that "the support given by the regime in Tehran to its allies in the Syrian regime makes it party to the aggression against the Syrian people, and excludes it from being part of the solution, as long as it does not fundamentally alter its position..." SNC head 'Abd Al-Basset Sida claimed that Annan's call to involve Iran was meant to fulfill Russian, Iranian and Chinese wishes, which would only come true "over the dead bodies of the entire Syrian people," who refuses to accept Iranian custodianship.
Former SNC head Burhan Ghalioun said that the opposition was "surprised that Annan had met with Assad in Damascus after holding the Syrian regime responsible for not implementing his plan, and after admitting his [own] failure [to resolve the crisis]... Do Annan's positions mean that there is new pressure on him? Is his future plan part of Russian efforts to reexamine the previous plan?... Every time Assad has caused a plan to fail, a new door was opened for him... New plans or efforts will not lead to results; it is the young people fighting on the ground who will decide [the conflict]..."
Syrian Muslim Brotherhood (MB) General Supervisor Riyadh Al-Shaqfa expressed disappointment with the international community and the Friends of Syria, which he claimed were using the Russian veto as an excuse to do nothing. He urged Annan to admit the failure of his plan and added: "Enough. The Syrian people are being slaughtered daily, while the world [sits by] watching. We do not trust initiatives that are launched here and there... The only option for us is the popular liberation campaign... The international community's failure to resolve the Syrian crisis has nothing to do with Moscow's position. The Security Council and the [Russian] veto are [just] their excuse to avoid taking quality steps to stop the bloodshed."
Syrian MB Spokesman Zuhair Salem criticized Annan's description of the Al-Treimsa massacre as "fighting," and wrote: "The enemy of the Syrian people, Kofi Annan... has revealed an ugly, murderous and barbaric side. Having grown accustomed to covering for war criminals in Kosovo, Rwanda, and Iraq, he is now shamelessly sinking his grey teeth into the body of the Syrian people... The position of Kofi Annan, the enemy of the Syrian people, which he clearly laid out before the so-called 'Security Council,' was that the weapons must remain in one hand [only] – that of Bashar Assad's government – so that it could slaughter and kill to its heart's content..."
Major General 'Adnan Silou, commander of the Turkey-based Joint Military Command of the Syrian Revolution, directed accusations at the Arab League. Silou, who served as head of the Syrian army's chemical warfare division and defected, said that his organization would act to bring Annan and Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Al-'Arabi to international criminal justice, due to their key involvement in the Syrian regime's crimes.
Arab Politicians, Journalists Call To Rescue Syrian People From Annan
Arab figures, too, leveled harsh criticism at Annan, mainly following his visits to Syria and Iran. They accused him of failure and claimed he was acting as Syria's foreign minister, helping Assad to regain control of the country. They also accused him of adopting Russia's position, both in refusing to intervene in Syria and in the call to include Iran in international efforts.
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat editor Tariq Alhomayed declared that Annan had failed and accused him of promoting his diplomatic status at the expense of the greater good: "...Not only has Annan's plan failed, he himself has failed by giving Assad chance after chance... The problem with some politicians, especially diplomats, is that they want to obtain results [at any cost] so they can say they produced solutions – even if those solutions entail leaving the tyrant of Damascus in place and rewarding Iran with legitimacy in Syria, just like Washington granted it legitimacy in Iraq..." In another article, Alhomayed called to save the Syrians from Annan, who had begun acting like Syria's foreign minister: "... It seems that Annan has taken over [Syrian Foreign Minister] Walid Al-Mu'allem's job. [In fact,] his efforts to save Assad are even more serious than those of Al-Mu'allem. His statements regarding the need to calm the situation gradually, 'region by region,' mean giving Assad control on the ground... [Also] scary was his statement that there is no choice but to collect weapons that have fallen into the wrong hands. Is he trying to say that the Syrian opposition is made up of armed terrorists, as Assad repeatedly says? [If so,] Annan has adopted Assad's position!... His position requires [us] to urgently rescue the Syrians – primarily from Annan [himself]..."
Sa'd bin Tafla Al-'Ajmi, former Kuwaiti information minister and publisher of the Kuwaiti newspaper Alaan, reviewed what he called Annan's failures in dealing with the international crises in Rwanda, Yugoslavia, and Iraq (alongside his success in Kenya), which, he said, did not prevent the UN and Arab League from appointing him special envoy to Syria. Al-'Ajmi wrote that the Syrians call Annan "Assad's new foreign minister," and claimed that "continuing Annan's mission, or the extension he [has granted] to violence [in Syria], serve only two forces: the Assad regime, which uses Annan as best it can, and Israel, which believes the ongoing fighting [in Syria] delays [the moment it will have to face its] questions and concern regarding what comes after Assad."
Al-Arabiya TV chief and former editor of the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, 'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, said Annan was attempting to extinguish the Syrian revolution and save the Assad regime: "... Annan is actually a puppet, brought in for the benefit of the group that wants to divide the international [community] and save the Assad regime by extinguishing the Syrian revolution... Annan adopted Russia's position and supported its refusal to intervene and stop the mass extermination carried out by Assad's forces. [In his defense, he evoked the Libyan crisis], claiming that Russia, China, and Libya itself had been tricked into accepting the principle of 'responsibility to protect' civilians, which later became an action to oust the Qadhafi regime."
Former Jordanian information minister Saleh Al-Qalab, published an article in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Jarida, in which he claimed that the Russians had convinced Annan to request that Iran be included in the Geneva conference, so that the international community would accuse Tehran of sabotaging the efforts of the Arab League and the UN, thus distancing criticism from Russia itself. According to Al-Qalab, "Kofi Annan is famously stubborn, and once he agrees to any idea, he firmly insists on it even if the entire world opposes him. That is what happened in the case of Iran and the [Geneva] conference..."
Western Elements: Annan Is Willing To Accept Violence
Criticism of Annan and his proposals was also heard in the West. Elements in the Security Council expressed surprise at his statement about trying a new approach, at odds with his original plan, despite the ongoing violence. They claimed that "Annan is attempting to bypass the first principle of his original plan, which determined that first the violence must be stopped or at least reduced, in preparation for the onset of a political process. It seems that Annan is willing to tolerate the ongoing violence, though dozens are killed in Syria every day, and that he is trying to launch the political process in the shadow of shelling and bloodshed... Annan must stop ignoring the decisions of the Friends of Syria conference, which included over 100 countries and demanded to take clear and definite steps."
Following Annan's visit to Tehran and his call to involve it in international activity, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said: "I don't think anybody with a straight face could argue that Iran has had a positive impact on developments in Syria..."
Annan serves Russian bear, Iranian mullah and Chinese dragon bathing in a tub of blood
Annan In Unusual Statement: I Understand The Opposition; Assad Understands That Change Is Necessary
It should be stressed that, as mentioned above, Annan had strongly criticized the Syrian regime, presenting it as the main force responsible for the crisis in the country. In an interview with the British Guardian on July 6, 2012, Annan made unusually strong remarks, expressing sympathy for the opposition and claiming that Assad understands that change is necessary: "I understand the reaction of the [Syrian] opposition. Maybe in their shoes I would have done the same or gone further because they didn't get 100% of what they wanted. But it doesn't mean they got nothing ... Assad has to understand that things cannot continue as they are. I raised the issue of transition in our first meeting in March and nothing has happened to shift people away from the concept of transition. I am sure he realizes it has to come."
Following the massacre in the village of Al-Treimsa in the Hama area, Annan accused the Assad regime of disregarding UN resolutions and called on the Security Council to pressure him to implement the peace plan, while warning against the consequences of non-implementation.
Despite criticism of Annan and his plan, Russia, China, and Iran, as well as other countries, continued clearly supporting his plan, claiming it was the only one that could promote a solution. The bid to place it under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which permits leveling diplomatic and economic sanctions against the regime, and even using force if necessary, failed due to Russian and Chinese veto. These countries saw the move as preparation for military intervention, and demanded that similar steps be taken vis-à-vis the opposition.
However, as stated above, on August 2, 2012, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced that Annan had tendered his resignation. It seems Annan realized that his diplomatic path, which essentially toed the line of the Assad regime while appeasing Iran, Russia, and China, was fruitless. It is still unclear how this move will impact the international community, and time will tell if it can overcome the disagreements rampant among various factions and act decisively to end the violence in Syria. For this to happen, Russia (along with China) must change its position and join those putting pressure on Assad to bring about his ouster, but there is currently no indication that it intends to do so. Certainly, if the UN is to effect any resolution to the Syrian crisis, it must ensure that Annan's successor take a more objective stance on the crisis and work to exert the necessary pressure against the Syrian regime.
*L. Barkan is a research fellow at MEMRI.
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