Does anyone still believe or wish for a peaceful settlement for Syria? If so today is a good moment to wonder whom this might be.
In 16 months, 20,000 people have died in civil violence opposing partisans of the ruling government run by Bashar Al-Assad and his opponents. At the international community level, a considerable split divides those in favor of his exit and those against. Children, women, non-combatants are victims of the conflict as are rebel fighters and government troops.
Today (2 August), Kofi Annan, jointly appointed by the Arab League and the United Nations as their Envoy to solve the Syrian crisis, announced his resignation effective on the 31st of August. The prospect had been looming since the Action Group conference, as the former UN Secretary General repeatedly urged towards more unity for a realizable transition, without which he declared himself powerless. In June and July, The Global Journal noted the unanswered appeal of the Joint Special Envoy (JSE).
Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan speaking at UNOG Press Conference
In a press conference at the United Nations Office in Geneva, Annan came back on his initial motivation "I accepted this task, which some called 'Mission Impossible' - for I believed it was a sacred duty to do whatever was in my power to help the Syrian people find a peaceful solution to this bloody conflict." Five months later, he realized that "the increasing militarization on the ground and the clear lack of unity in the Security Council, ha[d] fundamentally changed the circumstances for the effective exercise of [his] role."
Overpowered in spite of his best efforts, and answering the criticism directed against him, the JSE blamed a failed mediation process between the parties in order in an attempt to find common grounds: "the bloodshed continues, most of all because of the Syrian government’s intransigence, and continuing refusal to implement the six-point plan, and also because of the escalating military campaign of the opposition - all of which is compounded by the disunity of the international community." For him, it is a matter of consistency: "as an Envoy, I can’t want peace more than the protagonists, more than the Security Council or the international community for that matter."
Annan’s announcement happened as Aleppo develops into a new combat zone. 200,000 of its 2 million inhabitants are estimated to have left the city.
The news comes out as it is reported US President Barack Obama signed a secret order in order for the CIA and other agencies to explicitly help the rebels and provide them with weapons.
As France took the UN Security Council presidency yesterday (1 August), its Minister of Foreign Affairs, Laurent Fabius, announced it would present a resolution sometime next week to "both to try to stop the massacres and at the same time prepare the political transition." Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that the positions of China and Russia are to change in favor of ousting Al-Assad.
The UN Security Council in New York
Repeatedly, both have vetoed resolutions designed to increase pressure on the Syrian president. The 19th of July marked the third time they used their permanent member privilege. Then, Chinese Ambassador to the UN in New York, Li Baodong, said the text was "uneven content intended to put pressure on only one party." His Russian counterpart, Vitaly Churkin, concurred. He justified his position: "It's all about Iran," adding that “a major geopolitical battle is being fought in Syria."
This is certainly true, at least to the extent to which regional players are involved. The dynamics in the region, which Annan also evoked, did play a crucial role in reinforcing both fighting sides. Fingers are being pointed at Iran and Saudi Arabia for using Syria as a proxy battleground while fighting for regional hegemony.
Iran has favored the current government. It has acted as a main weapons route to the ruling authorities. Some were notably seized by Turkish authorities several times in the Spring.
Saudi Arabia, eager to increase its influence in the region, announced its will to sponsor a UN resolution favoring intervention. It strongly opposes regimes friendly to the Shi'a religious state, at all costs. Literally. Last week, the oil-rich Gulf country launched a "humanitarian fund" to help Syrians victims of their authoritarian government. After four days of existence, on Monday (30 July) the Fund was worth SR 246 million (USD 65.6 million). Saudi Arabia is today the largest single donor of humanitarian aid to Syria. It has been widely reported that funding will go to the opposition groups, notably for the acquisition of additional military equipment.
Humanitarian Fundraising for Syrians throughout Saudi Arabia
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon deplored Annan’s decision today. He also declared that another JSE would be assigned to the same undertaking.
What he will be able to do, in spite of Annan’s good words for his not-yet nominated successor, is more than ever uncertain. Gloomily, at that conference, Annan seemed to be the only one to think "Syria can still be saved from the worst calamity." He pointed out that it shall only happen "if the international community can show the courage and leadership necessary to compromise on their partial interests for the sake of the Syrian people."
All sides contribute to the intensification of the conflict. While the numbers of victims and refugees are skyrocketing, compromise does not seem to be at the top of the international agenda yet.
(Photos: Kofi Annan © Julie Mandoyan for The Global Journal; UNSC © UN Photos; Fundraising © Saudi Press Agency)