Political Comment (11 June 2012)
Further violence in Syria has led UN/Arab League mediator Kofi Annan to admit that his peace plan is failing and to suggest replacing or bypassing it with an international 'contact group'.
New Massacre Highlights Failure Of Annan Peace Plan
It has been yet another of what now passes for a normal week in Syria. On 2 June, UN/Arab League Special Envoy Kofi Annan told an Arab League meeting in Qatar that Syrian President Bashar al-Asad "must make bold and visible steps immediately to radically change his military posture and honor his commitment to withdraw heavy weapons and cease all violence. What is important is not the words he uses but the action he takes – now." Mr Asad's indirect but clear rejection of Mr Annan's call came the next day when he told a session of Syria's newly elected parliament that "we are not facing a political problem because if we were, this party would put forth a political program. What we are facing is an attempt to sow sectarian strife and the tool of this is terrorism. The issue is terrorism. We are facing a real war waged from the outside…this crisis is not an internal crisis. It is an external war carried out by internal elements." On 4 June a spokesman for the opposition Free Syria Army (FSA) announced that the group had "decided to end our commitment" to the ceasefire in Mr Annan's six-point peace plan, while Mr Annan's spokesman Ahmad Fawzi suggested that the special envoy "feels that perhaps the time has come, or is approaching, when the international community has to review…the crisis in Syria and decide what needs to be done to ensure implementation of the six-point plan." Mr Fawzi also pointed out that "we will continue to pursue the plan because it is the only option on the table at the moment" and that "Mr Annan and many others have warned of Syria descending into bloody, protracted sectarian civil war. We may already be there." The next day Syria retaliated for last week's coordinated international expulsion of Syrian diplomats by declaring 17 mainly American and European diplomats non grata
, and on 6 June at least 78 civilians, including children, were killed in a village near Hama in a massacre predictably attributed to "armed terrorist groups" by the government and to the pro-regime shabiha militia by the opposition.
The Hama massacre took place as Arab and western foreign ministers met at the Global Counterterrorism Conference in Istanbul on 6-7 June, after which US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was adamant on the need for Mr Asad to go. "Asad must transfer power and depart Syria," she told a press conference, adding that it was important "to give Kofi Annan and his plan the last amount of support that we can muster because, in order to bring others into a frame of mind to take action in the Security Council, there has to be a final recognition that it's not working." But she stressed that "Syria will not, cannot be peaceful, stable or certainly democratic until Asad goes" and that "we are prepared to work with any country, including all members of the UN Security Council, and we will do so so long as any such gathering starts from the basic premise that Asad and his regime must give way to a new, democratic Syria." According to a Turkish statement, the Istanbul meeting discussed "additional steps" including coordination on an "effective and credible transition process" to lead to a "democratic post-Asad Syria." The Turks also said that the member countries had agreed to convene a "coordination group" to provide support to a meeting of the Syrian opposition in Istanbul on 15-16 June, while France announced it will hold a full Friends Of Syria meeting in Paris on 6 July.
Annan Moots Contact Group
Against this background of mayhem and international indecision, Mr Annan admitted to the UN General Assembly on 7 June that his peace plan was not working, that failure to comply with it should not be ignored, and that "it must be made clear that there will be consequences if compliance is not forthcoming." Later the same day Mr Annan made it clear that he was referring principally to the Syrian government when he warned the Security Council that the crisis would soon spiral out of control and called for "substantial pressure" on Damascus and penalties for undermining the peace plan. Mr Annan also confirmed to reporters that he was seeking to reinvigorate his mediation by canvassing – but not yet proposing – the creation of a "contact group" bringing together Russia, China, the US, Britain, France and regional players party to the conflict such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar and Turkey, with the aim of bypassing the six-point plan and mapping out a political transition in Syria under which Mr Asad would step aside and leave the way free for democratic elections – the so-called Yemeni option. This is a proposal which faces formidable opposition, not least American unwillingness to countenance Iran's inclusion in the group (according to US UN ambassador Susan Rice on 7 June, "Iran is part of the problem in Syria at the present"). There is also the small matter of persuading Mr Asad to go quietly. And, of course, Russia and China remain profoundly ambivalent about international involvement in what they insist is a domestic Syrian affair. On 5 June Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, declared blandly after meeting in Beijing that "the international community should continue to support…Annan's mediation efforts and the UN monitoring mission to promote a political solution to the problem in Syria." Two days later, at the end of the annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization – which groups Russia and China with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – the member states declared themselves "against military interference in the affairs of this region, enforced 'handover of power,' unilateral sanctions. Member states stress the need to stop any violence on the territory of Syria wherever it is coming from, they respect broad nationwide dialogue based on independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty of Syria." However, on the same day Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov refused to rule out the Yemeni option altogether when he said that Mr Asad's fate "is not a question for us, it is a question for the Syrian political forces and society…application of the so-called Yemen scenario to resolve the conflict in Syria is possible only if the Syrians themselves agree to it. The Yemeni scenario was discussed by the Yemenis themselves. If this scenario is discussed by Syrians themselves and is adopted by them, we are not against it."
© Copyright MEES 2012.