By Michael Lipin
After months of shuttle diplomacy, international envoy Kofi Annan is giving up his bid to resolve Syria’s 17-month-long conflict.
Annan said Thursday that he will end his peace mission on August 31, when his mandate expires. The former U.N. secretary-general has been serving as a joint special envoy for the United Nations and Arab League since February 23.
Soon after starting his mission, Annan unveiled a six-point peace plan calling for a cease-fire and dialogue between Syrian government and rebel forces. He also traveled to Syria, its neighbors and world powers to appeal for support.
But the conflict and its death toll worsened, with both sides accusing the other of violating the Annan plan.
Annan issues blame
Annan on Thursday blamed his decision to quit partly on what he called “finger-pointing and name-calling” in the U.N. Security Council.
Speaking to reporters in Geneva, he said “I can’t want peace more than the protagonists, more than the Security Council, or the international community for that matter.”
But he also suggested that he may not be the last person to try to bring peace to Syria.
“The world is full of crazy people like me,” he said. “So don’t be surprised if Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon can find someone who can do a better job…I did not receive all the support that the cause deserved.”
Analysts said how much responsibility Annan himself bears for the failure of his effort is up for debate.
Interviewed last month, the chief editor of Russian journal “Russia in Global Affairs” said Annan was given an “impossible” task.
Fyodor Lukyanov said traditional diplomacy might have worked last year, when the Syrian conflict was at an early stage.
“When Kofi Annan got this job, it was already too late because the mutual distrust [between the Syrian government and opposition] and level of violence was such that any kind of compromise was almost unthinkable,” he said.
Lukyanov said Annan also was hampered by an inability of world powers to agree on how he should implement his peace plan.
“Both Russia and other great powers know that Mr. Annan cannot do more than they want him to do,” Lukyanov said. “He’s not that powerful.”
Russia does not want any settlement to be imposed on longtime ally Syria, saying the principle of national sovereignty must be respected. Moscow fears Western and Arab-led intervention to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could set a precedent for resolving future conflicts within nations.
Mark Malloch-Brown, a former British diplomat who served as Annan’s deputy at the United Nations in 2006, said last month that the envoy also faced a resilient Syrian president. He said the Syrian leader has been able to hang on to power and continue fighting the opposition with the help of external and internal support.
“Mr. Assad has still got Russian and to a lesser extent implicit Chinese backing,” Malloch-Brown said. “He also similarly has support from two large neighbors – Iran and Iraq. So from his point of view, he’s still got some cards to play. He also continues to enjoy a significant degree of internal support from minorities and from the Damascus merchant class.”
Malloch-Brown said Annan succeeded in getting the U.N. Security Council to approve a Syria peace plan and achieve some consensus where it did not exist before.
“This six-point-plan has remained his objective from the beginning despite the huge difficulties and significant failures in getting it implemented,” he said. “So he’s persistent. And above all else he’s calm. Lesser men would have run away from this a lot sooner,” Malloch-Brown said.
In a statement Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Annan deserves “profound admiration for the selfless way in which he has put his formidable skills and prestige to this most difficult and potentially thankless of assignments.”
But the head of Syria’s main exiled opposition group, Syrian National Council chief Abdulbaset Sieda, said last month that Annan had been “ineffective.”
“In the last three months, more than 3,000 people were killed, mass killing happened and our cities and villages were attacked by the government’s tanks, artillery, rockets and helicopters,” he said. “And that happened during the time of the Annan peace plan.”
Former U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, now a Mideast expert at the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations, said Annan was engaged in a diplomatic “facade” that enabled world powers to avoid taking action.
“Governments could say, well, you know Kofi Annan is on the case, and he’s trying, and maybe this can be resolved, rather than facing the fact that this is a war and that one side or another is going to win,” Abrams said. “Russia and China have not wanted him to do much. Once that was clear, and it was clear after a month or two, he should have quit.”
Abrams said Annan’s attempt to balance the rival interests of world powers was the “wrong model” for resolving the Syrian crisis.
“Unfortunately, he is acting more or less as he did as secretary-general rather than acting in an urgent manner to stop the killing in Syria,” Abrams said. “And I think that this effort has diminished and will diminish the reputation with which he left the job of secretary-general.”