Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan on Thursday faulted western countries’ insistence on seeking a UN Security Council Chapter 7 resolution opposed by Russia and China in part for the breakdown of Syria mediation efforts he pursued as joint UN/Arab League Syria envoy earlier this year.
Annan, speaking at the Brookings Institution in Washington Thursday, said he was able to broker agreement among the major powers on a six-step Syria transition plan, at a meeting in Geneva in June attended by both US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
But immediately after the meeting, the US and European nations went to the UN Security Council to try to get a Chapter 7 resolution that Russia had made clear it opposed because such a resolution had been used to authorize NATO military intervention in Libya. Russia and China vetoed the measure, Annan quit a month later, and the Syria conflict has grown more militarized even as in recent weeks it has seemed to settle into a stalemate.
The Syrian conflict is “not winner take all,” Annan said. “Neither side [is going to] give up, unless presented with a [political] alternative.”
Military intervention is not the answer in every situation, Annan said, adding that in the case of Syria, he believes it would make things worse.
Syria will not implode, Annan said, it will explode, spreading instability and sectarian strife across the region, as increasingly witnessed. An estimated 30,000 Syrians have been killed in the 19 month conflict, that has sent large and potentially destabilizing refugee flows into Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and beyond.
“Some governments made the calculation that the fastest way to end the Syria conflict is to arm one side or other,” Annan said, warning, “that is only going to get more people killed.”
The main point of contention between the western and Russian-aligned blocs on Syria, at Geneva and beyond, came down to the timing of the departure of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in a political transition, Annan said. The West bloc, including the US and Europe, has insisted that Assad’s departure be “upfront,” he said. The Russian-Iran bloc is not opposed to Assad going, he said, but didn’t agree that it should be a precondition for the political transition.
“What happens after Assad falls,” Annan said Russian President Vladimir Putin asked him in a tete a tete, conveying the Russian leader’s concern that the aftermath of Assad’s fall could be an even more bloody conflagration that could blow back to Russia’s periphery.
Despite disagreements over the timing and modalities of Assad’s envisioned departure, Annan said he thought it should be possible to bridge the differences.
That’s now left to his successor, veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, who visited Lebanon Thursday after meetings in recent days in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Jordan. Brahimi said this week he would push, on an upcoming visit to Syria, for a ceasefire over the coming Eid holiday.
Washington to date has resisted pressure to get more deeply entangled in Syria’s civil war. But a US official told Al-Monitor Thursday that he fears Washington may be pressured into expanding its role, as instability spills over and threatens fragile allies in the region, including Jordan, Turkey, and Iraq. The US is also reportedly concerned about arms from the Qataris and Saudis ending up with jihadi factions of the opposition.
“The right next step is to gather into one pot all the official contributions, lethal and nonlethal, from the United States and its Arab and European allies,” the Washington Post’s David Ignatius proposed one limited US intervention scenario Thursday. “Then let the Free Syrian Army commanders distribute the money and weapons to fighters, in ways that will build discipline.”
(Photo: Then Joint UN/Arab League Special Envoy for Syria, Kofi Annan looks out of a window from his office before a meeting with Major-General Robert Mood of Norway at the United Nations in Geneva July 20, 2012. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse.)