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Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Annan's Syria Plan: Too little, Too Late?
By Colum Lynch
Former Secretary of U.N. Kofi Anan with the Mufti of Syria
months of discord, the U.N. Security Council last week coalesced around a
diplomatic initiative led by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan,
presenting a rare show of unity in the face of President Bashar al-Assad's
bloody repression of anti-government protesters.
has the deal brought the world any closer to a democratic future under a leader
that enjoys popular support? A 6-point political settlement, authored by Annan
and endorsed this week by the U.N. Security Council, is ambiguous about the
fate of President Assad.
it has done little to change the realities on the ground, where the Syrian
government has continued to secure military gains against an armed opposition
that is running desperately low on ammunition.
the evidence ... points to Assad thinking basically that there is a military
solution to this crisis, that given time and space he can crush the
dissent," said one council diplomat. "We don't buy that. We think
they squash it in one place, as they did recently in Homs, it pops up somewhere
else, as we saw in Damascus."
the official said that Assad's continuing defiance could provide a
"hook" to bring the matter back before the Security Council, where it
can adopt tougher measures against the regime.
U.N. Security Council members, including U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, have
trumpeted the council's latest statement as a modest step that offers the best
hope of ending the violence in Syria, opening the floodgates for humanitarian
assistance and starting talks on a political transition, something that both
sides have so far refused to do.
for many outside observers the promise of sterner action remains uncertain,
particularly given veto-wielding Russia's support for Assad, and it may too
late to alter the course of development through diplomacy.
is a plan which, if it had been put on the table six weeks ago, would have
offered Assad away out for the regime. But it has much less reason to bargain
at a time where the regime is scoring successive military victories," said
Richard Gowan, an expert on the United Nations at New York University's Center
for International Cooperation. "The problem is that the Syrian military is
continuing to create facts on the ground and Annan and the Security Council are
inevitably struggling to keep up."
Washington Post editorial page put it more bluntly on March 22: Annan's
initiative, it reasoned, "will likely provide time and cover for the
regime of Bashar al-Assad to continue using thanks and artillery to assault
Syrian cities and indiscriminately kill civilians. That's exactly what the
regime was doing Thursday -- pounding the city of Hama, where at least 20
people have been reported killed in army attacks in the past two days."
officials are convinced that Assad cannot end the uprising through military
means, and that he will ultimately need to bargain the terms of his political
future. "If he thinks he can weather this storm...he [has made] a serious
misjudgment," Ban Ki-moon recently told a small group of reporters over
lunch. "He cannot continue like this. He has gone too deep, too far."
the meantime, Annan has urged the armed opposition's foreign sympathizers,
including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, not to supply anti-government forces with
weapons and other military supplies. Annan urged Russian President Dmitry
Medvedev over the weekend to press Assad to accept his peace proposal, and
reportedly met with top Chinese officials in Beijing on Sunday to secure a
told the Security Council earlier this month that Assad's initial response to
his diplomatic entreaties have been "disappointing." But he placed
hope that a united Security Council could turn the diplomatic tide.
stronger and clearer the message you can collectively send," he told the
council in a closed door briefing on March 16, "the better the chance that
we can begin to shift the worrying dynamics of the conflict."
such a change may be complicated by Assad's own calculation of the personal
dangers of peace. "There are risks for him in that he may fear he will
lose on the negotiating table what he through fighting," said Gowan.
"He may have concluded it is simply best to create a military fait
argument one hears advanced is that the damage to his political base has been so
great he cannot survive long in office even if he wins on the
battlefield," Gowan added. "Where as long as the fighting continues
he has the upper hand, and so will never back down."
-This commentary was published in Foreign Policy on 26/03/2012
- Colum Lynch is a longtime Washington Post correspondent