Former U.N. Chief Kofi Annan urged Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to engage with him as he takes up his new post as the United Nations-Arab League Special Envoy on Syria.
Annan said Wednesday that he expects to go to Syria soon and his first priority is to stop the violence which has killed more than 7,500 people over the past year.
Annan met with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for about an hour on Wednesday to discuss his mission. Afterwards the two diplomats spoke with reporters.
Annan acknowledged that he is taking on a “very difficult assignment”, one that is a “tough challenge” and he laid out his priorities.
“The first thing we need to do, as the Secretary-General has said, is to do everything we can to stop the violence and the killing, to facilitate humanitarian access and ensure that the needy are looked after, and work with the Syrians in coming up with a peaceful solution which respects their aspirations and eventually stabilizes the country,” Annan said.
Annan, who was U.N. Secretary-General from 1997 to 2006 and is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, urged President Assad to engage with him and called on the international community to unite around his mediation efforts.
“So, one, single, unitary process. And it is when the international community speaks with one voice that that voice is powerful, and we should pool our efforts and work together. I am determined to work with everybody, and I am going to consult broadly, with all actors, and I think I am well on the way in that direction,” Annan said.
U.N. Chief Ban Ki-moon warned that the situation in Syria has grown “increasingly desperate.” He said he has asked his predecessor to go next to Cairo to meet with Arab League Secretary-General Nabil ElAraby, then to see other leaders in the region, and on to Damascus as soon as possible.
Ban urged the Syrian authorities to extend their full cooperation to the Annan mission, and he expressed his disappointment that his humanitarian chief, Valerie Amos, has not yet been allowed into Syria despite promises from the government that she would be welcome.
“I take this opportunity to remind the Syrian authorities of their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law, and I call on them once again to work toward a peaceful, democratic solution for the Syrian people,” Ban said.
Earlier Wednesday, Valerie Amos expressed her “deep disappointment” that Syrian authorities are blocking her request to enter the country. The Secretary-General wants her to visit to assess the situation in the country, particularly in Homs, which has been enduring a government military offensive and rising death toll for weeks.
Earlier efforts in the U.N. Security Council to adopt a resolution supporting an Arab League plan to end the crisis failed when Russia and China vetoed the measure, saying it called for regime change.
The United Nations top political officer said this week that the death toll from the nearly year-long government crackdown on pro-democracy protesters is now “certainly well over 7,500” people, including women and children.