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Annan Quits As Syrian Envoy Over Disunity, Fighting

Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the Arab League for Syria Kofi Annan gestures during a news conference after the meeting of the Action Group on Syria at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, June 30, 2012.
BEIRUT — The joint United Nations-Arab League envoy for Syria, Kofi Annan, announced Thursday that he will leave his post on August 31, saying that increased militarization in Syria and disunity in the international community have hampered his ability to carry out his work.

Annan told reporters in Geneva that without serious and united international pressure, it is impossible for him or anyone else to compel the Syrian government and the opposition to take the necessary steps to begin a political process.

Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Endowment's Middle East Center in Beirut, says Annan's resignation is disappointing, but that the environment was not conducive for him to be effective.

“He certainly was probably the best mediator with the most prestige for such a crisis. But having said that, no crisis is ready for mediation until the parties are ready to mediate and ready to negotiate. And I think in the Syrian situation, both parties have not yet reached that point,” Salem said.

Salem adds that the opposition might feel vindicated by Annan's resignation because it will bolster their argument that the government has never been ready to negotiate and was only using the envoy's mission as a cover to buy time to put down the uprising with force.

American University in Beirut political scientist Hillal Khashan sees Annan's resignation in a more pessimistic light.

“The resignation spells the formal death of all peace initiatives related to Syria,” he said.

Khashan said he believes the international community will move toward an accelerated settlement of the crisis, which means finding an exit for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that would likely involve military action from Syria's neighbors, particularly Turkey and Jordan.

“I think the next few days will witness an escalation of diplomacy, leading to direct military intervention by Syria's neighbors,” Khashan said.

Turkey and Syria have large Kurdish populations. Khashan says Turkey is likely to use the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a U.S.-designated terrorist group, as a pretext to interfere militarily in Syria. He also notes that the rebel fighters, known as the Free Syrian Army, have established a corridor from the Turkish border to the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, potentially opening a road for Turkish military intervention.

Jordan could also be drawn in, Khashan says, because its border with Syria has come under fire several times, most recently with Syrian rockets and artillery fired into Jordan.

But analyst Nadim Shehadi with London's Chatham House says there is another possible and preferable scenario. “There is the possibility of a diplomatic solution, whereby the Russians are convinced to step in and ensure the transition. In fact, this would be the preferable one,” Shehardi said.

Salem agrees that Annan's resignation might put more pressure on the Russians, who have used their U.N. Security Council veto three times to protect the Assad government from tougher international action. “I think the Russians are trying to convince the regime in Syria to engage in a managed transition in which President Assad and his family would have a safe exit, and the armed forces, the Ba'ath Party and others, would be part -- and a significant part -- of a managed transition,” Salem said.

Shehadi says that before some in the international community were concerned about what might follow President Assad if he left -- an unknown opposition, al-Qaida, or perhaps civil war. But now, he says, they are more fearful of what will happen the longer he stays.