Kofi Annan, the former U.N. secretary-general once known as a diplomatic rockstar, is trying to start meaningful talks to end the brutality in Syria that has claimed at least 8,000 lives over the past year.
Chosen as an envoy by the United Nations and the Arab League, Annan may offer the last chance to rescue negotiations, which might entail Syrian President Bashar al-Assad excluded from the process so the many Syrian opposition groups could work out a deal.
Annan told the divided U.N. Security Council on Friday by video-conference from Geneva he wanted them to speak with one voice. In a follow-up news conference, he also warned that any major escalation of the crisis “will have an impact in the region which will be extremely difficult to manage” much more so than in Libya.
At minimum, Annan is telling Assad he can’t stop change with guns. “I have urged the president to heed the old African proverb: ‘You cannot turn the wind, so turn the sail,’” Annan, a native of Ghana, said. “The realistic response is to embrace change and reform.”
He will be sending in a technical team this weekend to look at monitoring mechanisms and then decide when to go in again. So far the Assad government has insisted “armed groups” declare a cease-fire, neighboring countries pledge to stop arming them and all nations pledge not to finance protestors, according to the Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar, confirmed by diplomats.
Still no Council resolution
Two previous resolutions were vetoed by Russia and China, in part because of an Arab League plan for Assad to delegate power during negotiations. The new resolution, diplomats said, might paper over this disagreement but U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said she still “counted eight sticking points.”
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé made clear on Monday, at a Security Council meeting called by British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, that a “red-line” would be Moscow’s insistence on equivalence — that the Syrian government and the rebels were equally responsible for the destruction and the rebels had to disarm first.
At the same meeting, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the crisis in Syria as a revolt against a dictatorial regime. “We reject any equivalence between premeditated murders by a government military machine and the activities of civilians under siege driven to self-defense.”
Respecting Syria’s sovereignty, she said, did not mean “this Council should stand silent when governments massacre their own people.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov conceded that Syrian authorities bore a “huge share of responsibility for the current situation” but said they were fighting combat units that included Al Qaeda.
He rejected the Arab League’s call for Assad to delegate power, saying regime change or sanctions imposed by many countries were “risky recipes of geopolitical engineering.”
Syria is backed by Iran. Tehran’s opponents, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, have been accused of arming rebels. Both deny it.
If diplomacy fails, then what?
Turkey, housing thousands of fleeing Syrians, wants a humanitarian zone in Syria to protect endangered civilians. But who would send a security force to protect them?
The United States is in no mood to launch any kind of invasion, despite claims to the contrary by Syrian apologists that NATO is eager to duplicate the Libyan intervention. Wars have unintended consequences, especially in an election year.
So experts repeatedly turn to Russia, which supplies Damascus with weapons, as the only nation that could pressure the government. If Annan, aided by Russia, does not make any progress “only an intensifying military one will remain, with dire consequences for all,” said the International Crisis Group.
FULL ARTICLE (The Huffington Post)
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