Kofi Annan resigns as U.N. envoy to Syria

August 2, 2012

John Heilprin of Associated Press and Worldview

 

Kofi Annan said Thursday he will quit his high-profile role as special envoy to Syria at the end of the month, delivering blistering criticism of world powers' failure to unite to stop the country's escalating violence.

Annan told reporters that when he accepted the job, "which some called 'Mission Impossible'" — he wanted to help the international community, led by the U.N. Security Council, find a peaceful solution to the crisis. The goal was to stop the killings of civilians and human rights abuses, as well as to place Syria on a path toward political transition.

"The severity of the humanitarian costs of the conflict, and the exceptional threats posed by this crisis to international peace and security, justified the attempts to secure a peaceful transition to a political settlement, however daunting the challenge," Annan said.

But the former U.N. secretary-general told reporters that he cannot go on when the New York-based, 15-nation Security Council doesn't back his role, particularly because of the standoff between its five veto-wielding members: Russia and China on one side, the United States, Britain and France on the other.

"Things fell apart in New York," he summed up. "The increasing militarization on the ground (in Syria) and the clear lack of unity in the Security Council have fundamentally changed the circumstances for the effective exercise of my role."

Annan was named the U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria in February, overseeing a small staff in a secretive office in the sprawling Palais des Nations, the U.N.'s European headquarters in Geneva. He came up with a six-point peace plan to resolve the crisis in the Arab state, including a cease-fire that was supposed to take effect in mid-April.

But, despite the presence of hundreds of U.N. observers on the ground, the cease-fire never took hold and the violence in Syria has morphed into a civil war. Rights activists say that more than 19,000 people have died since the popular uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad began in March 2011.

"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," Annan told reporters in Geneva.

"At a time when we need — when the Syrian people desperately need action — there continues to be finger-pointing and name-calling in the Security Council."

On June 30, Annan succeeded in getting the major powers on the council — including stalwart Syria allies Russia and China — to agree on a broad framework for a political transition in Syria. But the Security Council never formally endorsed the plan or acted on it, something that sorely disappointed the envoy and, he said, undermined his efforts.

Annan did not single out any country for criticism, but said, "Without serious, purposeful and united international pressure, including from the powers of the region, it is impossible for me, or anyone, to compel the Syrian government in the first place, and also the opposition, to take the steps necessary to begin a political process."

"You have to understand: as an envoy, I can't want peace more than the protagonists, more than the Security Council or the international community for that matter," he said.

The news comes as no surprise to Dr. Zaher Sahloul, a local physician and president of the Syrian American Medical Society. He joined Worldview to discuss the impact of Annan's resignation and the future of the U.N.-Syrian relationship.