News / Middle East

    UN's Syria Envoy Draws Sympathy, Criticism

    Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) listens to Kofi Annan, the UN and Arab League envoy for the Syrian crisis, during a meeting in the Kremlin, Moscow, July 17, 2012.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) listens to Kofi Annan, the UN and Arab League envoy for the Syrian crisis, during a meeting in the Kremlin, Moscow, July 17, 2012.
    After months of shuttle diplomacy, international envoy Kofi Annan has failed to produce a breakthrough in Syria's 16-month-long crisis

    The U.N. Security Council remained deadlocked on a solution Thursday, with Russia and China vetoing a Western-backed proposal for sanctions against Damascus. It left Annan "disappointed," he said, at the lack of "strong and concerted action" that he has urged.

    Now, with the fate of his mission unclear, observers disagree about how much responsibility Annan bears for the international failings.

    Annan, a former U.N. Secretary-General, took the role of Joint Special Envoy for the United Nations and the Arab League in late February. He unveiled a six-point peace plan calling for a cease-fire and dialogue between Syrian government and rebel forces and traveled to Syria, its neighbors and world powers to appeal for support. But the conflict escalated.

    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 Annan cannot do more than they want him to do," Lukyanov said. "He's not that powerful."

    Smoke rises from the suburb of Erbeen in Damascus July 19, 2012.Smoke rises from the suburb of Erbeen in Damascus July 19, 2012.
    x
    Smoke rises from the suburb of Erbeen in Damascus July 19, 2012.
    Smoke rises from the suburb of Erbeen in Damascus July 19, 2012.
    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.

    Assad Unmoved

    Mark Malloch-Brown, a former British diplomat who served as Mr. Annan's deputy at the United Nations in 2006, said the envoy also has 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.

    Annan Criticized

    But the head of Syria's main exiled opposition group, Syrian National Council chief Abdulbaset Sieda, said Annan has 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 has engaged in a diplomatic "facade" that enables world powers to avoid taking action.

    "Our 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. "So I think this has been really a very harmful effort and I think it should have been called off and I think he should quit now."

    Abrams said Annan's attempt to balance the rival interests of world powers has been 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."

    On Thursday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Annan's peace plan has failed.

    Annan admits that he lacks results and that his mission cannot continue indefinitely.

    In an interview with French newspaper Le Monde earlier this month, he said "we have not succeeded, and ... there is no guarantee that we will succeed."

    But, the former U.N. chief also vowed to press on, asking rhetorically, "do we have ... alternatives?"

    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

    Candidates' Comments Fly Like New Hampshire Snowflakes

    Four days ahead of the country's first-in-the-nation Republican and Democratic party primary elections, surveys show the parties' contests tightening

    South Korea Says North Korea Moving Closer to Rocket Launch

    In phone call, US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping agree that Pyongyang's move would be 'provocative'

    Australian Commander: IS Changing Tactics

    Head of Australian forces in Middle East talks with VOA about training Iraqi troops, countering evolving Islamic State efforts and defeating extremism

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Denis from: EU
    July 22, 2012 12:10 PM
    George@ You mean rioting like those in New York, Chikago, SF etc takeing ower wallstreat ? American ruling class is afraid of the day their citizens realize they are not democracy but a oligarhy with elements of Bonapartism.

    by: Alfred Cossi Chodaton from: Benin (Republic), Cotonou
    July 20, 2012 5:11 AM
    When you observe the guilty silence of the Westerners in the face of the repression taking place in Togo against protesters and the excessive focus of international media on the crisis in Syria, you will understand the concern of the Western world that has never had anything to do with democracy. Rather, it is for them to maintain on the surface of the earth regimes that are favorable to them and allow them to plunder the planet's resources and in the contrary, to eradicate all regimes that thwart their plan. How else do you understand that with the savage repression faced by Togolese under the hereditary dictatorship of Gnassingbe family, nobody says anything?

    by: vageorge from: Virginia
    July 19, 2012 4:13 PM
    Russia and China are vetoing any action by the UN because they fear
    their people may revolt and they will be in the same position as Assad.
    The UN should recognize this and move on without them and end this
    bloodshed!
    I wonder if the idea is shared by obama as so many hate him here

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.