News / Middle East

UN's Annan Draws Sympathy, Criticism as Syria Mission Fails

A June 30, 2012 photo shows Kofi Annan, Joint Special Envoy of the U.N. and the Arab League for Syria (C), U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (L), and Russian FM Sergei Lavrov at the United Nations, Geneva, Switzerland.
A June 30, 2012 photo shows Kofi Annan, Joint Special Envoy of the U.N. and the Arab League for Syria (C), U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (L), and Russian FM Sergei Lavrov at the United Nations, Geneva, Switzerland.
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.

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (L) welcomes new Chief of General Staff of the Army and the Armed Forces, General Ali Abdullah Ayyoub, before a meeting in Damascus, July 22, 2012.Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (L) welcomes new Chief of General Staff of the Army and the Armed Forces, General Ali Abdullah Ayyoub, before a meeting in Damascus, July 22, 2012.
x
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (L) welcomes new Chief of General Staff of the Army and the Armed Forces, General Ali Abdullah Ayyoub, before a meeting in Damascus, July 22, 2012.
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (L) welcomes new Chief of General Staff of the Army and the Armed Forces, General Ali Abdullah Ayyoub, before a meeting in Damascus, July 22, 2012.
Assad unmoved

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."

Annan criticized

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."

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

You May Like

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More