Annan’s Plan: Avoiding Another Veto

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U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan reads a statement after his meeting with Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus 11 March 2012. (Photo: REUTERS - Khaled al-Hariri)

By: Elie Chalhoub

Published Thursday, March 22, 2012

Official Syrian sources tell Al-Akhbar that although Kofi Annan’s six-point plan has not been fully worked out yet, they are comfortable with the UN statement issued on Wednesday endorsing his efforts.

“The positive outweighs the negative,” is perhaps the phrase that best expresses the official Syrian position on the United Nations presidential statement issued on Wednesday.

The statement backs a plan proposed by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan to resolve the crisis in Syria, including such steps as a ceasefire, the facilitation of humanitarian aid, and a political settlement through talks between the regime and the opposition.

But from the Syrian government’s point of view, the statement is still nothing but “empty words” even though it represents a face-saving way out for anyone who wants to back away from their previous hard-line positions against the Syrian regime.

The Syrian position seems to highly value Russian efforts at the UN Security Council (UNSC), especially Moscow’s insistence to all concerned parties that its acceptance of this non-binding compromise does not mean a change in its principled position on the crisis in Syria.

Syrian official sources say that “there is a clear direction now toward a political solution led by Syria and sponsored by the international community.”

The source adds, “The question of President Bashar Assad stepping down...has been thrown in the trash bin. The only option offered by the international resolution is a dialogue within the framework of a political process led by Damascus.”

The sources explains that “the consensus behind this statement demanding a solution under Syrian and not foreign leadership is the best proof that the international community supports this view.”

They point out that “there would no longer be a predetermined result to the dialogue which is what previous Arab decisions had demanded when Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Morocco wanted a dialogue with set limits and a predetermined outcome, namely Assad’s departure.”

These sources indicate that as far as Damascus is concerned “the mechanisms of the solution have become clear to everyone. The first step is to calm down the situation and provide emergency humanitarian aid, to be followed by a dialogue involving all those that have weight on the ground, after armed groups lay down their weapons.”

They stress that “the last point is significant because it is the first time that the UNSC has recognized the presence of armed groups inside Syria.”

The sources confirm that “Syria is committed to positive engagement. Now the opposition, along with Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Morocco, should do the same. If that were to happen then it will be the beginning of the end of the crisis.”

The sources say that “Annan’s team, which is on the ground in Syria, is discussing with authorities there the details of the ceasefire and the emergency assistance in terms of quality, size, and the mechanisms of delivery to areas in need,” pointing out that the team visited Hama, Latakia, and Idlib.

Sources close to the Syrian regime note that a “colossal efforts” was made by the Russians to get to this statement, pointing out that “Moscow exerted tremendous pressure and was keen to inform all concerned parties from the US to Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar that its acceptance of the statement does not mean that there has been a change in its principled position on the Syrian crisis.”

According to these sources, the UN statement “represents a change in many previous positions. It indicates for the first time that both sides of the conflict in Syria are armed, and are using weapons and calls for an end to violence in all its forms and from all sides.”

The sources add that “there is also a confirmation that the Syrian government will work on achieving a sustainable cessation to violence in coordination with Annan. This implies a recognition that the Syrian government should have a monopoly on the possession and use of arms.”

The sources point out that the statement also confirms the willingness of Syrian authorities to provide humanitarian assistance to all areas affected by the fighting but “at the right time,” meaning it will be up to the Syrian government to determine if it is possible to do so based on the situation on the ground.

The same sources maintain that the question of humanitarian assistance is not a simple one. It requires defining a clear mechanism for delivering aid after it gets inspected.

“There is a basic question at stake, namely, who guarantees that aid items won’t include weapons especially since civilians in many conflict areas have fled, leaving only the fighters who know how to fend for themselves. So why is there this insistence on delivering materials to these places?” they wonder.

And the same applies to the question of the daily two-hour pause in hostilities. That too will be subject to the appropriate time and circumstances, in other words, to the Syrian government’s authority.

Even though the sources point out that the statement is not binding, they emphasize that “there was a need to get something from the UNSC that would serve as a face-saving and honorable way out for any party wishing to back away from former radical positions on Syria.”

When asked about the Syrian government’s position on this statement, the sources confirm that “for Syria, the outline is clear and that is: reject anything having to do with the Arab League and welcome anything related to the humanitarian situation based on conditions on the ground.”

They also point out that the six points of the UNSC statement correspond to the terms that Annan proposed in Damascus, which in turn closely resemble the Arab initiative that led to the Arab observer mission in Syria.

These sources confirm that the UN statement is a reflection of the Syrian authorities success in controlling the situation on the ground.

They say: “the Russians cannot defend you this way unless you are strong. They would not have been able to do the same thing had you been defeated. Incidentally, every time you hear about an attack or explosion in Damascus or Aleppo, know that armed groups are responding to a setback they suffered somewhere else in Syria.”

These sources are keen to confirm that “the whole story with Annan and his initiative is, until this moment, nothing but dust in the wind.”

He came to Damascus and held talks offering what is called in diplomatic language a “non-paper,” and we replied in kind. We welcomed his effort without a paper. He left. He told us I will send a team to discuss the details and we welcomed that step too.

“In the end,” they say, “we welcome any effort that contributes to finding a Syrian solution to the crisis without undermining Syrian sovereignty. But until now, there is no agreement with Annan and no agreement on his initiative.”

The sources add that the UN envoy “sent a delegation of observers to Syria to discuss matters on the ground. But you know, observer missions are flexible.”

“The Arab observers,” they add, “came here to carry out a specific mission and ended up working on delivering assistance to troubled areas. The same thing happened with Annan’s team. They are touring flashpoint areas and are still exploring the situation on the ground.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


United Nations Presidential Statement on the Joint Special Envoy on Syria

The Security Council recalls its Presidential Statement of 3 August 2011 and its Press Statement of 1 March 2012.

The Security Council expresses its gravest concern at the deteriorating situation in Syria which has resulted in a serious human rights crisis and a deplorable humanitarian situation. The Security Council expresses its profound regret at the death of many thousands of people in Syria.

The Security Council reaffirms its strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Syria, and to the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter.

The Security Council welcomes the appointment of Joint Special Envoy for the United Nations and the League of Arab States, Kofi Annan, following the General Assembly resolution A/RES/66/253 of 16 February 2012 and relevant resolutions of the League of Arab States.

The Security Council expresses its full support for the efforts of the Envoy to bring an immediate end to all violence and human rights violations, secure humanitarian access, and facilitate a Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, plural political system, in which citizens are equal regardless of their affiliations or ethnicities or beliefs, including through commencing a comprehensive political dialogue between the Syrian government and the whole spectrum of the Syrian opposition.

To this aim, the Security Council fully supports the initial six-point proposal submitted to the Syrian authorities, as outlined by the Envoy to the Security Council on 16 March 2012, to:

1) commit to work with the Envoy in an inclusive Syrian-led political process to address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people, and, to this end, commit to appoint an empowered interlocutor when invited to do so by the Envoy;

2) commit to stop the fighting and achieve urgently an effective United Nations supervised cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties to protect civilians and stabilise the country.

To this end, the Syrian government should immediately cease troop movements towards, and end the use of heavy weapons in, population centres, and begin pullback of military concentrations in and around population centres.

As these actions are being taken on the ground, the Syrian government should work with the Envoy to bring about a sustained cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties with an effective United Nations supervision mechanism.

Similar commitments would be sought by the Envoy from the opposition and all relevant elements to stop the fighting and work with him to bring about a sustained cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties with an effective United Nations supervision mechanism;

3) ensure timely provision of humanitarian assistance to all areas affected by the fighting, and to this end, as immediate steps, to accept and implement a daily two hour humanitarian pause and to coordinate exact time and modalities of the daily pause through an efficient mechanism, including at local level.

4) intensify the pace and scale of release of arbitrarily detained persons, including especially vulnerable categories of persons, and persons involved in peaceful political activities, provide without delay through appropriate channels a list of all places in which such persons are being detained, immediately begin organising access to such locations and through appropriate channels respond promptly to all written requests for information, access or release regarding such persons;

5) ensure freedom of movement throughout the country for journalists and a non-discriminatory visa policy for them;

6) respect freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully as legally guaranteed.

The Security Council calls upon the Syrian government and opposition to work in good faith with the Envoy towards a peaceful settlement of the Syrian crisis and to implement fully and immediately his initial six-point proposal.

The Security Council requests the Envoy to update the Council regularly and in a timely manner on the progress of his mission. In the light of these reports, the Security Council will consider further steps as appropriate.

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