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

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    Factions Shift as Civilians Die in Syrian War

    Scenario likely only to further confuse military situation on ground and potentially worsen humanitarian crisis that already has grown to epic proportions

    Presidential Hopefuls Woo Minorities, Evangelicals

    Four GOP candidates to speak at forum at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.