UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan has signalled that even his patience is wearing thin over his stalled effort to end the Syrian regime’s brutal crackdown on dissent by calling for a “serious review” of his plan for a political transition in Syria.
“The time is coming, if it is not already here, for a serious review,” Annan told Arab League ministers in Doha on Saturday. “The international community must decide what it does next. From my consultations with many actors, I sense a clear recognition that things cannot continue as they are. I agree,” he said.
Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations, says everyone can see “the wheels coming off this bus.”
Well, the fact is that the “bus” never took off.
What Annan should have realised from the word go is that Syrian President Bashar Al Assad has no intention to make any political compromise with the opposition and is determined to fight to the last to ensure the survival of his regime. This was a fact known from the very outset of the anti-regime protests that began in March last year. However, the world failed to take swift and decisive action and is still undecided how it could go about taking effective action to end the regime’s campaign of genocide against the Syrian people.
Sixteen months into the conflict that saw more than 13,000 people being slaughtered – an overwhelming majority of them innocent civilians – the only reality that the international community has accepted is that the Syrian regime has only been buying time by pretending to accept initiatives to end the crisis.
The world has seen how Damascus has been stubbornly refusing to accept that the rebellion is the result of decades of oppressive rule and blaming “foreign thugs and terrorists” for the crisis even as its forces were carrying out massacres in towns and villages they suspected to be sympathisers of the opposition.
Assad’s denial on Sunday that his forces were not involved in the May 26 massacre of 108 people, nearly half of them children, in the town of Houla and his assertion that not even “monsters” would carry out such an ugly crime are typical of his deceptive approach to the international community.
Effectively, what Assad said in a speech to parliament was that he would press ahead with his military campaign and let the world do what it could to stop him despite widespread international condemnation over his deadly crackdown on dissent.
The world is not yet prepared to pick up the gauntlet.
Granted that Russia and China, which have their vested political and economic interests in ensuring that the Syrian regime survives the revolt, have been extending a protective umbrella to the rulers of Damascus against UN Security Council action. That simply meant that the world does not have alternative means to deal with rogue regimes backed by big powers.
The administration of US President Barack Obama is said to be planning to circumvent the UN Security Council and launch a West-led and Arab-backed plan to intervene in Syria if the world body does not begin effective action by July 20, when the mandate of the current UN observation mission runs out.
Obama has reportedly warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that Syria’s huge arsenal of chemical and biological weapons could end up in the hands of militants who could use them in Russia’s troublespots.
“If only one barrel of anthrax reaches the hands of a Caucasian terrorist group, Russian will face its greatest terrorist threat in its history,” Obama reportedly told Putin in a recent telephone conversation. “Millions of Russians may perish.”
Obama is said to be trying to persuade Putin to accept a new plan for the immediate assignment by the UN Security Council of 3,000 armed monitors to Syria to take charge of the countries’ weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Another 2,000 will join the team later, according to an Israeli report.
Of course, Putin is bound to suspect that this could be a trick to send Western armed forces into Syria. In anticipation of that, Obama reportedly suggested that most of the WMD monitors would be Russian or nationals of governments which support the Assad regime.
Obama also held a video-conference call on the issue on May 31 with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, to brief them on his initiative and his talks with Putin.
The Russian president is playing his cards close to his chest and gives an impression that he is not backing down from his ardent support for the Syrian regime.
Even as Annan is growing increasingly desolate that he is not getting anywhere with his initiative for Syria, Moscow and Beijing are insisting that his plan is the only way ahead but they have not moved a finger to secure the Syrian regime’s cooperation with the special envoy. Their insistence on Annan’s plan could only be seen as tacit support for the Syrian regime’s tactics, because they could not but be aware that the initiative is not going anywhere.
In simple terms, Russia and China are stalling the international effort for an end to the bloodshed in Syria. The world should sidestep them and come up with a Plan B that does not require their endorsement. There is little sense in waiting for the July 20 expiry of the UN observation mission. The Friends of Syria group, made up of the Western powers and key Arab countries, could be a launch pad for Plan B. If there is no Plan B, then one must be drawn up immediately.