Political Comment (23 April 2012)
As the UN prepares to deploy monitors in Syria, the ceasefire brokered by UN/Arab League envoy Kofi Annan has worked only intermittently at best. Nonetheless Mr Annan's six-point peace plan remains the only game in town. In Egypt the election commission has disqualified 10 of the 23 candidates in the presidential election, including the nominee of the Muslim Brotherhood. Iran's first meeting in over a year with international nuclear negotiators has gone well enough to warrant a follow-up. Sudan and South Sudan are close to war after the south seized the Heglig region near their border. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has criticized his Iraqi counterpart.
UN Sends Advance Team Of Monitors
In Syria, the ceasefire which went into effect on 12 April has turned out to be like the proverbial curate's egg – good in parts. However, since the peace plan proposed by UN/Arab League envoy Kofi Annan is the only game in town, the UN has carried on regardless even though the government has visibly failed to withdraw its forces from population centers and fighting has continued sporadically in Homs, Dir'a and other cities. The situation was summed up later in the week by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who said in a letter to the Security Council on 18 April that "the Syrian government has yet to fully implement its initial obligations regarding the actions and deployments of its troops, or to return them to barracks. Violent incidents and reports of casualties have escalated again in recent days with reports of shelling of civilian areas and abuses by government forces. The government reports violent actions by armed groups. The cessation of armed violence is therefore clearly incomplete."
Meanwhile, on 14 April the Security Council unanimously passed a resolution authorizing an initial deployment of up to 30 unarmed UN observers who, according to Mr Ban, will "try to make concrete proposals by 18 April for an official observer mission," and an advance team of six monitors arrived in Damascus 15 April. According to Mr Annan's spokesman Ahmad Fawzi on the same day, "we expect the Security Council to discuss and adopt a second resolution before the end of next week that will authorize the deployment of a full observer mission of 250, perhaps a few more. The mission will include civilians, political officers and human rights experts in order to observe the full implementation of the six-point plan, which includes a lot more than the cessation of hostilities." And on 19 April Syria and the UN announced the signature of an agreement on the terms of the monitoring mission, without being too specific about the details. According to a Syrian foreign ministry statement, "this preliminary agreement…aims to facilitate the task of the observers within the framework of Syrian sovereignty." Mr Fawzi put the emphasis somewhat differently, saying that "this agreement outlines the functions of the observers as they fulfil their mandate in Syria and the tasks and responsibilities of the Syrian government." For the sake of balance, he added that the Annan team was holding "similar discussions with representatives of the opposition on the tasks and responsibilities of the armed opposition groups."
Friends Of Syria Meet Again
It was hard to disagree with the conclusion of the 14-nation ‘Friends of Syria’ meeting in Paris on 19 April that "though fragile, the Annan mission represents a last hope." But the meeting also exposed massive differences within the international community on how best to further that mission. For US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, "we need to continue to work and move toward a Security Council authorization so that we have the authority to proceed when the times are right. We need to start moving very vigorously in the Security Council for a Chapter 7 sanctions resolution including travel, financial sanctions, an arms embargo, and the pressure that that will give us on the regime to push for compliance with Kofi Annan's six-point plan." However, Mrs Clinton was preaching to the converted, and the Russians – who did not participate in the meeting – most emphatically disagree. According to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the same day, "when the so-called Syrian group of friends meet and somebody says 'now we'll assess how Asad implements Kofi Annan's plan,' it is a wrong attempt. We cannot privatize (the plan) and we will not let it happen."
Ikhwan's Candidate Disqualified
Egypt's presidential race was plunged into confusion on 14 April when the presidential election commission disqualified 10 of the 23 candidates, including the nominee of the Ikhwan al-Muslimin (Muslim Brotherhood), Khairat al-Shatir, Salafist frontrunner Hazim Salah Abu Isma'il and former vice president 'Umar Sulaiman. Mr Sulaiman, who had an insufficient number of signed up supporters to comply with electoral requirements, accepted the commission's verdict with apparent equanimity. Not so Mr Abu Isma'il, whose candidacy was rejected because his late mother held an American passport, who declared on 14 April that "the presidential committee has violated all the rules of law. If the official decision is to violate the constitution, they should be able to deal with the consequences." Mr Shatir, who was disqualified after a court rescinded the pardon granted him by the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) for his arrest on political grounds during the Mubarak era, somewhat confusingly accused SCAF – which has said it will hand power to civilians after the elections by 1 July – of clinging to power, saying on 18 April that "the military council does not have the serious intention to transfer power. We must wake up, because there is an attempt to hijack the revolution." His disqualification does not, of course, mean that the Brotherhood has dropped out of the race, and it swiftly nominated the head of its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), Muhammad Mursi, to replace Mr Shatir. Nonetheless, the commission's intervention, and Mr Shatir's exclusion, is reckoned by observers in Cairo to strengthen the chances of candidates such as former foreign minister 'Amr Musa and 'Abd al-Mun'im al-Futuh, the FJP member who was expelled from the party last June after announcing that he would run as an independent.
Iran And P5+1 Agree To Meet Again
Iran's first negotiations in over a year on its nuclear program with the P5+1 – the permanent members of the Security Council and Germany – in Istanbul on 14 April were successful enough for a second round to be scheduled in Baghdad on 23 May and produced some unexpectedly upbeat talk. For EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton the meeting had been "constructive and useful," and "we expect that subsequent meetings will lead to concrete steps towards a comprehensive negotiated solution which restores international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program." Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili claimed that "we witnessed progress. There were differences of opinion. But the points we agreed on were important." Even the Americans – in the person of deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes – conceded that "the talks in Istanbul have been a positive first step," and that "there was a constructive atmosphere…the Iranians came to the table and engaged in a discussion about their nuclear program." It was left to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to rain on everyone's parade when he observed on 15 April that "my initial impression is that Iran has been given a freebie. It's got five weeks to continue enrichment without any limitation, any inhibition. I think Iran should take immediate steps: first stop all enrichment, take out all the enriched material and dismantle the nuclear facility in Qom." His wariness was clearly shared by Danish FM Villy Sovndal who said on 16 April – after Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi seemed to suggest that the lifting of sanctions might be matched by concessions on the Iranians' part – that "I think it would be very dangerous to create a situation where we say to Iranians we might lift part of the sanctions. They are world champions in making very long negotiations lead nowhere."
South Sudan Seizes Heglig
Sudan and South Sudan, which separated in July under terms of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, appeared to be on the verge of all-out war after South Sudan last week seized the contested oil-producing Heglig region close to the border between the two countries. The seizure of Heglig provoked an outburst of bellicose rhetoric from Sudanese President 'Umar Hasan al-Bashir, who said on 18 April that "our main goal is liberation of the southern citizens from the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM). The story began in Heglig. But it will end in Khartoum or Juba" and repeated the next day that "these people don't understand, and we will give them the final lesson by force. We will not give them an inch of our country, and whoever extends his hand on Sudan, we will cut it." On the same day, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon took the unusual step of siding with the claims of the north, saying that "I call on South Sudan to immediately withdraw forces from Heglig. This is an infringement on the sovereignty of Sudan and a clearly illegal act." For the sake of balance, he also "impressed on both governments the necessity of ending the fighting and returning to negotiations," while noting that ″they have yet to heed our call."
Erdogan Attacks Maliki
To all appearances out of the blue, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has unleashed a broadside at Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, accusing him of exacerbating Iraq's ethnic and sectarian tensions. Speaking on 19 April after meeting with Mas'ud Barzani, the president of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region in the north, Mr Erdogan told a news conference that "the developments in Iraq are not good signs, especially the current prime minister's behavior toward his coalition partners. His self-centered ways…are seriously disturbing Shi'ite groups, Barzani and Iraqi groups."
© Copyright MEES 2012.