MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis |867 |August 2, 2012
Amidst Accusations Of Collaborating With Assad, Russia, And Iran, UN Envoy
Annan Resigns In Failure
By: L. Barkan*
In late February 2012, roughly a year after the beginning of the crisis in
Syria, the UN and Arab League appointed former UN secretary-general Kofi
Annan as Joint Special Envoy for the UN and the Arab League for Syria, with
the aim of ending the violence in the country and advancing a solution to
the crisis. In this capacity, Annan drew up a peace plan that entailed an
internationally overseen ceasefire. Though it garnered support in both the
international arena and from the Syrian regime, the plan failed to end the
violence, which only increased and which has by now claimed the lives of
thousands of Syrians.
On August 2, 2012, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced that Annan had
effectively tendered his resignation, choosing not to renew his mandate as
joint special envoy after it expired at the end of the month. According to a
statement by Ban, the resignation stemmed from Annan's frustration that
Syria had failed to adopt his peace plan, even though, according to Ban, "it
still remains the best hope for the people of Syria."
During the past year, the international community has remained divided on
the Syrian issue, preventing any UN action from being taken. While the U.S.,
Europe, Turkey and the Arab League called to oust Syrian President Bashar
Al-Assad, and, to this end, advanced resolutions to exert political and
financial pressure against his regime in the Security Council, Russia and
China blocked all such attempts using their veto. Together with Iran, which
is not a permanent member of the Security Council, Moscow and Beijing
demanded that the Assad regime and the Syrian opposition be treated the
same, and claimed that Assad's fate is a domestic Syrian matter.
In seeking to strike a compromise between the divided sides, Annan, in fact,
adopted the stance of Russia, China, and Iran: He did not call on Assad to
step down nor did he call for sanctions against Assad's regime as part of
any binding Security Council resolution. Moreover, Annan even asked that
Iran be involved in the international efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis.
In this way, he made it possible for the Moscow-Beijing-Tehran bloc to cling
unwaveringly to its position, and to thwart any international move that
might force Damascus to make concessions and meet the demands of both the
global community and the Syrian people. In so doing, he facilitated Russia's
campaign to regain its former status as a key world power opposite the U.S.
It should be noted that Annan spoke out more than once against the Assad
regime, placing upon it most of the responsibility for the situation, but
failed to translate this criticism into actions.
Special Envoy Kofi Annan and Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad (Damascus,
July 9, 2012)
A few months after he was appointed joint special envoy, Annan became the
target of criticism by both the Syrian opposition and by other elements in
the Arab world and the international community, who claimed he was serving
the Assad regime and adopting the stances of Russia and Iran to the point
of calling him "an enemy of the Syrian people." They attacked his decision
to visit Syria, Russia, and Iran several days after failing to attend the
July 6, 2012 "Friends of Syria" conference in support of the Syrian
opposition, in which hundreds of countries and organizations participated.
Accusing him of being party to the massacres in Syria, they noted his past
failures in resolving previous world crises. However, despite the criticism,
official elements in the world continued to support his plan, noting that it
is the only relevant solution.
The following report will discuss Annan's activities as Joint Special Envoy
for the UN and the Arab League for Syria, as well as the criticism he has
faced for these activities.
Annan's Plan: Internationally Monitored Ceasefire And Political Dialogue
Several weeks after his appointment, Annan drew up a six-point peace plan
that was accepted by both the Syrian regime and the international community;
the Security Council Presidency supported it in a March 21, 2012
announcement. The plan calls for the Syrian authorities to:
1) commit to work with the Envoy in an inclusive Syrian-led political
process to address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian
2) commit to stop the fighting and achieve urgently an effective United
Nations supervised cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all
parties to protect civilians and stabilize the country... Similar
commitments would be sought by the Envoy from the opposition and all
3) ensure timely provision of humanitarian assistance to all areas
affected by the fighting, and to this end, as immediate steps, to accept and
implement a daily two-hour humanitarian pause...
4) intensify the pace and scale of release of arbitrarily detained
persons, including especially vulnerable categories of persons, and persons
involved in peaceful political activities...
5) ensure freedom of movement throughout the country for journalists and a
non-discriminatory visa policy for them;
6) respect freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully
as legally guaranteed.
In early April, upon Damascus's acceptance of his plan, Annan declared that
all armed Syrian forces must withdraw from Syrian cities by April 10, in
preparation for the implementation of a ceasefire to take effect two days
later. He also called for the dispatch of international observers to oversee
peacekeeping efforts in the country. With the Syrian regime agreeing to
admit them, the Security Council decided on April 20 to send some 300
unarmed military observers for an initial period of 90 days, to be joined by
civilian experts in the fields of politics, human rights, administration and
communications. Shortly thereafter, UN observers began arriving in Syria
and patrolling the streets.
Annan Accuses Damascus Of Escalating Violence But Continues To Work With
Following the adoption of Annan's plan, it initially appeared that Syrian
military forces were withdrawing from some of the cities, and that the
violence was subsiding but such hopes were quickly dashed. The fighting on
the ground soon intensified, with the number of dead and wounded growing by
the day. In addition to ongoing clashes between the military and the armed
opposition forces, terrorist elements carried out attacks against civilian
and government targets, with high death tolls.
UN observer and Syrian tanks play hide-and-seek
Acknowledging that the sides were not living up to their commitments, Annan
placed the lion's share of the blame on the Syrian regime, even accusing it
of deceit. Diplomatic sources reported that at an April 24 closed meeting of
the Security Council, Annan said that areas of Syria visited by UN observers
were generally calm, but that as soon as the observers departed, regime
forces begin attacking the area vacated. Annan's spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said
it was possible that regime forces had killed Syrians who met with the
At a May 8 press conference in Geneva, Annan said: "The government bears a
greater responsibility [than other parties] to do whatever it can to reduce
the severity of the violence. [However,] the armed groups and the opposition
must [also] think about the Syrian people, which is the victim of both
sides. The opposition must give peace a chance, and meet [the demand for a
ceasefire], so that that the violence can stop and dialogue can begin."
Similarly, at a June 2 Arab League ministerial committee meeting, Annan
said: "The specter of an all-out war with a worrying religious dimension
grows by the day... All sides in the Syrian conflict must work responsibly
to stop the violence, but the greatest responsibility falls on the
However, despite the deteriorating situation and his announcement that the
Syrian regime was not abiding by its commitments, Annan did not hesitate to
continue working with Damascus, even praising its cooperation with the UN
observers. In late May, he visited Syria, where he met with Assad, Foreign
Minister Farouq Al-Shar', and others. Annan called on the regime to take
steps that would prove it was serious in its intent to resolve the crisis
peacefully, but added that the same call applied to all those who bore arms
in Syria. At a meeting with Al-Shar', Annan praised the regime's cooperation
in ensuring the safety of the observers and in facilitating the progress of
the peace plan, for allowing journalists to enter the country, and for
permitting humanitarian organizations to operate. During his visit,
Annan also emphasized to Assad that freedom of expression and the right to
peaceful protests must be upheld.
Annan Works To Advance A Unified International Position While Involving
Russia, China, Iran
During the long months of crisis, the international community failed to
formulate a unified position on Syria due to the positions of Russia and
China. Since his appointment as joint special envoy, Annan appeared to have
been quite soft on these two countries as well as on Iran, Syria's
greatest ally, which he wished to involve in solving the crisis. Conversely,
the West saw these three countries as part of the problem rather than the
solution, so much so that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that
the only way to change Russia and China's position was to make them
understand that they would pay a price for it. She also accused Russia of
supplying military jets to the Syrian regime and of helping it kill
civilians. Russia, on the other hand, accused Arab, Muslim and Western
countries of financing and arming the Syrian opposition, and thereby
intensifying the violence in the country.
Kofi Annan with Russian President Vladimir Putin
The international deadlock drove Annan to launch a new initiative in early
June, which was also fruitless. He proposed to establish an international
"action group" made up of countries that have influence over the Syrian
regime and opposition, including Iran that would work towards a
solution. The West supported the initiative, but refused to involve
Iran. The group convened in Geneva on June 30, 2012, and included Russia and
China, which had never taken part in such an international effort outside
the Security Council. However, Iran was excluded, as was Saudi Arabia
which is among the leaders of the Arab campaign against Assad probably as
"compensation" for Iran's exclusion. Thus Annan forewent Iranian
involvement, but balanced it by excluding Saudi Arabia. The group reached an
agreement on a transitional phase in Syria, which includes ceasing the
violence and disarming the armed groups; continuity of governmental
institutions; conducting intra-Syrian dialogue; establishing an agreed-upon
transitional government including both regime and opposition members;
reexamining the constitution; and ultimately holding elections. In his
announcement on the agreement, Annan stressed that the solution would come
via peaceful dialogue, and that Assad's fate would be determined by the
Syrians alone. He said further: "I would doubt that the Syrians
select people with blood on their hands to lead them." He expressed hope
that the crisis would be resolved within one year. The Syrian regime
welcomed the agreement, but the opposition rejected it.
The vague wording of this agreement left the issue of Assad's future
standing. Unlike the West, which consistently demanded that Assad step down,
Annan stressed that the decision must be left to the Syrians. The Lebanese
daily Al-Akhbar claimed that Annan and Russia were clearly adopting Assad's
position: "Until now, there have been at least two elements, aside from the
[Syrian] regime and its president, who have said what Assad says... One is
Moscow, which wields the weapon of veto in the Security Council, and the
other is Annan, who has [presented] the initiative, the plan and the
proposal for a transitional phase, in order to implement the six points [of
his plan]. Unlike the Americans and Europeans, and the Arabs who oppose the
regime, [Russia and Annan] say that Assad's ouster is an internal Syrian
Even after the Action Group conference in Geneva, Annan continued to demand
the involvement of Russia and Iran in solving the crisis and warned against
"the destructive competition" in the international community on the Syrian
matter. Annan told the British Guardian on July 6, 2012: "Russia does have
influence and can encourage the Syrian government to implement fully the
six-point plan and Security Council resolutions, but this task cannot be
left to the Russians alone. I expect Iran to play a role. Those
governments the U.S. and the Friends of Syria that have influence with
the opposition should also play a role. If they continue with this
destructive competition everyone will lose. They [the West] accuse the
Russians of arming the [Syrian] government. The Russians accuse them of
arming the opposition and flooding the place with weapons. This is instead
of coming together to see what can be done."
In a July 7, 2012 interview with the French newspaper Le Monde, Annan
intensified his tone towards countries who oppose the Syrian regime: "Very
little is known about other countries that send money and weapons [to
Syria]... These countries say they want a peaceful solution, but they
undertake individual or group initiatives that undermine Security Council
resolutions. Focusing on Russia alone greatly angers the Russians."
Annan continued his activity vis-ΰ-vis the Syrian regime and its supporters,
and received their praises. On July 9, 2012, one week after the Geneva
conference, he made a surprise visit to Syria and spoke to Assad about
ending the violence and starting intra-Syrian dialogue. Both sides described
the meeting as positive, and Annan announced he would also meet with the
armed opposition and discuss a ceasefire as he did with Assad. Annan
then travelled to Tehran, seeking its support in finding a peaceful solution
to the crisis. In a press conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar
Salehi, he said: "I have been greatly encouraged by Iran, and I hope we will
cooperate to [promote] a solution to the crisis and prevent it from
spreading throughout the region." On July 17, 2012, Annan visited Russia
and met with President Putin, who praised him highly: "[Annan is] a very
popular and respected professional... We supported and still support all
efforts to restore peace."
Kofi Annan with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Russia Exploits Syrian Crisis To Strengthen Position Vis-ΐ-Vis The West
Kofi Annan's continued cooperation with Russia without demanding that this
country soften its position and explicitly call for Assad to step down
enabled Russia to stand its ground and prevent an increase in international
pressure on the Syrian regime. Annan's friendly visits to Iran and his
repeated calls to include it in international efforts to resolve the Syrian
crisis, also helped bolster the pro-Assad axis.
Russia's unyielding stance is presumably intended to strengthen its position
in the world, which it believes is controlled by a U.S.-led West, by placing
it at the head of a rival bloc, as it was before the collapse of the Soviet
Union. Along with Russia stand China, which also used its veto in the UN
Security Council, and Iran, which is the primary political, military, and
financial supporter of the Assad regime and continues to provoke the West
with its nuclear program.
An expression of Russia's outlook can be seen in Foreign Minister Lavrov's
response to criticism leveled by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
regarding the transfer of combat helicopters from Russia to Syria. Lavrov
said that his country would not apologize, because it had not violated any
international laws or Security Council resolutions, and added: "Maybe the
problem lies in the American mentality... which says: 'We Americans are
number one in the world...' The justification for this belief is diminishing
by the day... It has become apparent that the Americans cannot solve the
world's political and economic problems on their own." Lavrov claimed that
this mentality was embodied in the unilateral sanctions on Iran, Syria,
Cuba, and other countries; and in the U.S.'s attempt to impose its laws on
foreign countries that do not violate any international laws, which, he
said, represents a dangerous and negative international trend.
Annan Criticized For Cooperating With Assad, Russia, Iran
Annan's conduct on the Syrian matter and his cooperation with Assad, Russia
and Iran triggered harsh criticism from the Syrian opposition and from Arab
and international elements who called him an enemy of the Syrian people.
Syrian Opposition: Annan Is An Enemy Of The People; Enables Ongoing Massacre
The Syrian opposition, both armed and political, claimed that Annan was
serving the Syrian regime and was party to the acts of slaughter against the
people. It called to acknowledge the failure of his plan and attacked his
calls to involve Iran in the international efforts. The Syrian opposition
did not spare its criticism from the Arab League and the international
community as well.
On Friday, July 13, 2012, after Annan's visit to Syria and Iran, and
following a massacre in the village of Al-Treimsa in the Hama area that took
place on that day, Syrians in various provinces held protests at which they
called "down with Annan, the servant of Syria and Iran." At a demonstration
in Hama, protestors raised a banner which read "Annan, your plan has no
place anymore. You are the cause of the massacres. You protect The
Hulagu of the regime."
Protesters in Kafr Nabl
The Turkey-based Syrian National Council (SNC) the main body of the
political opposition outside Syria issued a communique criticizing Annan's
decision to meet with the Syrian regime and expressing outrage at his
absence from the Friends of Syria conference, which took place several days
prior in Paris. The SNC also questioned his call to include Iran in the
international Action Group, claiming that "the support given by the regime
in Tehran to its allies in the Syrian regime makes it party to the
aggression against the Syrian people, and excludes it from being part of the
solution, as long as it does not fundamentally alter its position..."
SNC head 'Abd Al-Basset Sida claimed that Annan's call to involve Iran was
meant to fulfill Russian, Iranian and Chinese wishes, which would only come
true "over the dead bodies of the entire Syrian people," who refuses to
accept Iranian custodianship.
Former SNC head Burhan Ghalioun said that the opposition was "surprised that
Annan had met with Assad in Damascus after holding the Syrian regime
responsible for not implementing his plan, and after admitting his [own]
failure [to resolve the crisis]... Do Annan's positions mean that there is
new pressure on him? Is his future plan part of Russian efforts to reexamine
the previous plan?... Every time Assad has caused a plan to fail, a new door
was opened for him... New plans or efforts will not lead to results; it is
the young people fighting on the ground who will decide [the
Syrian Muslim Brotherhood (MB) General Supervisor Riyadh Al-Shaqfa expressed
disappointment with the international community and the Friends of Syria,
which he claimed were using the Russian veto as an excuse to do nothing. He
urged Annan to admit the failure of his plan and added: "Enough. The Syrian
people are being slaughtered daily, while the world [sits by] watching. We
do not trust initiatives that are launched here and there... The only option
for us is the popular liberation campaign... The international community's
failure to resolve the Syrian crisis has nothing to do with Moscow's
position. The Security Council and the [Russian] veto are [just] their
excuse to avoid taking quality steps to stop the bloodshed."
Syrian MB Spokesman Zuhair Salem criticized Annan's description of the
Al-Treimsa massacre as "fighting," and wrote: "The enemy of the Syrian
people, Kofi Annan... has revealed an ugly, murderous and barbaric side.
Having grown accustomed to covering for war criminals in Kosovo, Rwanda, and
Iraq, he is now shamelessly sinking his grey teeth into the body of the
Syrian people... The position of Kofi Annan, the enemy of the Syrian people,
which he clearly laid out before the so-called 'Security Council,' was that
the weapons must remain in one hand [only] that of Bashar Assad's
government so that it could slaughter and kill to its heart's
Major General 'Adnan Silou, commander of the Turkey-based Joint Military
Command of the Syrian Revolution, directed accusations at the Arab League.
Silou, who served as head of the Syrian army's chemical warfare division and
defected, said that his organization would act to bring Annan and Arab
League Secretary-General Nabil Al-'Arabi to international criminal justice,
due to their key involvement in the Syrian regime's crimes.
Arab Politicians, Journalists Call To Rescue Syrian People From Annan
Arab figures, too, leveled harsh criticism at Annan, mainly following his
visits to Syria and Iran. They accused him of failure and claimed he was
acting as Syria's foreign minister, helping Assad to regain control of the
country. They also accused him of adopting Russia's position, both in
refusing to intervene in Syria and in the call to include Iran in
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat editor Tariq Alhomayed declared that Annan had failed and
accused him of promoting his diplomatic status at the expense of the greater
good: "...Not only has Annan's plan failed, he himself has failed by giving
Assad chance after chance... The problem with some politicians, especially
diplomats, is that they want to obtain results [at any cost] so they can say
they produced solutions even if those solutions entail leaving the tyrant
of Damascus in place and rewarding Iran with legitimacy in Syria, just like
Washington granted it legitimacy in Iraq..." In another article,
Alhomayed called to save the Syrians from Annan, who had begun acting like
Syria's foreign minister: "... It seems that Annan has taken over [Syrian
Foreign Minister] Walid Al-Mu'allem's job. [In fact,] his efforts to save
Assad are even more serious than those of Al-Mu'allem. His statements
regarding the need to calm the situation gradually, 'region by region,' mean
giving Assad control on the ground... [Also] scary was his statement
that there is no choice but to collect weapons that have fallen into the
wrong hands. Is he trying to say that the Syrian opposition is made up of
armed terrorists, as Assad repeatedly says? [If so,] Annan has adopted
Assad's position!... His position requires [us] to urgently rescue the
Syrians primarily from Annan [himself]..."
Sa'd bin Tafla Al-'Ajmi, former Kuwaiti information minister and publisher
of the Kuwaiti newspaper Alaan, reviewed what he called Annan's failures in
dealing with the international crises in Rwanda, Yugoslavia, and Iraq
(alongside his success in Kenya), which, he said, did not prevent the UN and
Arab League from appointing him special envoy to Syria. Al-'Ajmi wrote that
the Syrians call Annan "Assad's new foreign minister," and claimed that
"continuing Annan's mission, or the extension he [has granted] to violence
[in Syria], serve only two forces: the Assad regime, which uses Annan as
best it can, and Israel, which believes the ongoing fighting [in Syria]
delays [the moment it will have to face its] questions and concern regarding
what comes after Assad."
Al-Arabiya TV chief and former editor of the London-based Saudi daily
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, 'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, said Annan was attempting to
extinguish the Syrian revolution and save the Assad regime: "... Annan is
actually a puppet, brought in for the benefit of the group that wants to
divide the international [community] and save the Assad regime by
extinguishing the Syrian revolution... Annan adopted Russia's position and
supported its refusal to intervene and stop the mass extermination carried
out by Assad's forces. [In his defense, he evoked the Libyan crisis],
claiming that Russia, China, and Libya itself had been tricked into
accepting the principle of 'responsibility to protect' civilians, which
later became an action to oust the Qadhafi regime."
Former Jordanian information minister Saleh Al-Qalab, published an article
in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Jarida, in which he claimed that the Russians had
convinced Annan to request that Iran be included in the Geneva conference,
so that the international community would accuse Tehran of sabotaging the
efforts of the Arab League and the UN, thus distancing criticism from Russia
itself. According to Al-Qalab, "Kofi Annan is famously stubborn, and once he
agrees to any idea, he firmly insists on it even if the entire world opposes
him. That is what happened in the case of Iran and the [Geneva]
Western Elements: Annan Is Willing To Accept Violence
Criticism of Annan and his proposals was also heard in the West. Elements in
the Security Council expressed surprise at his statement about trying a new
approach, at odds with his original plan, despite the ongoing violence. They
claimed that "Annan is attempting to bypass the first principle of his
original plan, which determined that first the violence must be stopped or
at least reduced, in preparation for the onset of a political process. It
seems that Annan is willing to tolerate the ongoing violence, though dozens
are killed in Syria every day, and that he is trying to launch the political
process in the shadow of shelling and bloodshed... Annan must stop ignoring
the decisions of the Friends of Syria conference, which included over 100
countries and demanded to take clear and definite steps."
Following Annan's visit to Tehran and his call to involve it in
international activity, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said: "I
don't think anybody with a straight face could argue that Iran has had a
positive impact on developments in Syria..."
Annan serves Russian bear, Iranian mullah and Chinese dragon bathing in a
tub of blood
Annan In Unusual Statement: I Understand The Opposition; Assad Understands
That Change Is Necessary
It should be stressed that, as mentioned above, Annan had strongly
criticized the Syrian regime, presenting it as the main force responsible
for the crisis in the country. In an interview with the British Guardian on
July 6, 2012, Annan made unusually strong remarks, expressing sympathy for
the opposition and claiming that Assad understands that change is necessary:
"I understand the reaction of the [Syrian] opposition. Maybe in their shoes
I would have done the same or gone further because they didn't get 100% of
what they wanted. But it doesn't mean they got nothing ... Assad has to
understand that things cannot continue as they are. I raised the issue of
transition in our first meeting in March and nothing has happened to shift
people away from the concept of transition. I am sure he realizes it has to
Following the massacre in the village of Al-Treimsa in the Hama area, Annan
accused the Assad regime of disregarding UN resolutions and called on the
Security Council to pressure him to implement the peace plan, while warning
against the consequences of non-implementation.
Despite criticism of Annan and his plan, Russia, China, and Iran, as well as
other countries, continued clearly supporting his plan, claiming it was the
only one that could promote a solution. The bid to place it under Chapter
VII of the UN Charter, which permits leveling diplomatic and economic
sanctions against the regime, and even using force if necessary, failed due
to Russian and Chinese veto. These countries saw the move as preparation for
military intervention, and demanded that similar steps be taken vis-ΰ-vis
However, as stated above, on August 2, 2012, UN Secretary-General Ban
Ki-moon announced that Annan had tendered his resignation. It seems Annan
realized that his diplomatic path, which essentially toed the line of the
Assad regime while appeasing Iran, Russia, and China, was fruitless. It is
still unclear how this move will impact the international community, and
time will tell if it can overcome the disagreements rampant among various
factions and act decisively to end the violence in Syria. For this to
happen, Russia (along with China) must change its position and join those
putting pressure on Assad to bring about his ouster, but there is currently
no indication that it intends to do so. Certainly, if the UN is to effect
any resolution to the Syrian crisis, it must ensure that Annan's successor
take a more objective stance on the crisis and work to exert the necessary
pressure against the Syrian regime.
*L. Barkan is a research fellow at MEMRI.
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