Annan to Assad: “Not Tomorrow...Now!”
By: Nasser Charara
Published Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Annan’s peace plan for Syria is at a critical stage, especially after the horrific Houla massacre last Friday. Western powers hostile to Damascus are using the bloodshed to put more pressure on Assad, while Russia and China question whether the regime is to blame.
Syrian President Bashar Assad insisted yesterday that the success of Kofi Annan’s plan depends on “a cessation of terrorist activities and those who support them and putting a stop to arms smuggling.”
A Syrian presidential statement declared that Assad had made it clear to Annan that “terrorist groups had clearly escalated their operations in all Syrian areas recently. They have carried out killings and kidnappings against Syrian citizens. They have also carried out robberies and attacked public and private facilities by burning or sabotaging them.”
During his press conference in Damascus, international envoy Annan said that he has urged the Syrian president to take bold steps — not tomorrow, now — to create momentum for the implementation of his six point plan.
“In my meeting with President Assad I conveyed, in frank terms, the grave concern of the international community about the violence in Syria, including the recent shocking events in Houla,” he said.
“I also noted that the government of Syria is organizing its own investigations, and that is very encouraging,” he added.
“We are at a tipping point. The Syrian people do not want the future to be one of bloodshed and division. Yet killings continue and the abuses are still with us today.”
Addressing the opposition, Annan said: “I also appeal to the armed opposition to cease acts of violence. I also ask all the states with influence to impress upon the government and all parties the need for a cessation of violence in all its forms — including the continuing human rights abuses.”
“I also strongly appealed to the president to exercise his power and release detainees. It is also essential that access is granted to all detainees and places of detention,” he concluded.
Annan arrived in Damascus this time carrying French, British, and American conditions, which guided his discussion with the Syrian president. These conditions, which have not been declared, were handed to Annan during the closed session at the Security Council on Sunday.
A diplomatic source has revealed to Al-Akhbar the proceedings of this session, which witnessed a tense discussion over responsibility for the Houla massacre as well as the proposals Annan had to offer Assad at their meeting during his upcoming visit.
Washington, London, and Paris’ failure at the Security Council hearing to get a quick condemnation of the Syrian regime over the massacre, led them to place preconditions on Annan’s mission before granting him something of a mandate for his meeting with Assad.
The diplomatic source revealed two conditions made by these countries. First, that during his meeting with Assad, Annan has to demand that the president produce, through the Syrian government, the necessary clarifications on “the crimes committed during the Houla massacre.” And second, that Annan has to “demand that President Assad immediately begin to implement the steps of the transitional political process.”
The three countries agreed to back up these demands by timing Annan’s meeting with President Assad to coincide with a campaign to expel Syrian diplomats from Western countries. The purpose of this is to influence Assad’s morale during his negotiations with the UN envoy.
The source confirms that it is not clear to what extent Annan is committed to these conditions. Was he going to propose them as concepts within his vision of a solution to the Syrian crisis, or were they key to the continuation of his mission?
This is in light of the fact that Annan — according to statements by his assistant Nasser al-Qudwa — believes that the basic success of his talks in Syria depends at this point on the deployment of more observers as quickly as possible, and to include as part of their duties the capacity to allow them administrative, political, and civil supervision over “hot areas.”
This would be done by creating three specialist committees to accompany every observer team in the area where they are stationed. These committees will be a political committee, a civil committee, and a human rights committee (which means an international administrative mandate over these areas).
For Annan’s plan to start moving forward, he must also convince the regime to immediately authorize a person with powers to negotiate with the opposition as part of the political process. However, Annan realizes that it is not the right time to begin these negotiations because the opposition is unable to unite.
But Washington has a different point of view on this matter. It believes “that a rumor going around that uniting the opposition means that all its sides have to join the Syrian National Council is false.” The American ambassador in Syria, Robert Ford, maintained at a seminar on the future of Syria held a few days ago, that “What is important is to have a joint program of action for all the sides in the opposition.”
“This is what was supposed to happen at the Cairo meeting on May 16, but was postponed because some opposition parties were not present there,” he added. Ford revealed that the US State Department is working to reconvene the meeting next month.
The diplomatic source also discussed the press statement released by the Security Council on Sunday. He pointed out that the statement did not reflect the complete truth of what took place during the session, including suggestions, discussions, and even unilateral recommendations from Western states to compel Annan through intimidation.
However, the UN statement reflected to a great extent the Chinese and Russian ability to put the brakes on a scenario through which the Western countries in the Council intended to use the massacre to escalate against the Syrian regime. This included immediately imposing harsh new sanctions on the country.
The diplomat added that a briefing was presented on the Houla massacre through video conferencing from Damascus by the head of the International Observer Mission in Syria, General Robert Mood. Mood stated that the bloodshed in Houla was the result of gunfire which included artillery and tank shelling and other means.
The Chinese and Russian delegates asked a number of questions after the briefing. They did not receive any answers to their questions and therefore regarded the investigation to be incomplete from their point of view, and as unhelpful in reaching political conclusions in trying to determine responsibility for the crime.
One major question asked by the two delegates was on the number of victims of the massacre who were killed by shelling and rocket fire, and the number of those who were killed at close range using light weapons.
The second and more important question, which forced the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Herve Ladsous, at the end of the session to admit that it was a legitimate one, was a question over the circumstances that led to the massacre.
In other words, the two delegates demanded an accurate description of the circumstances which surrounded the events in Houla, particularly when the Syrian government does not control the area where the massacre took place.
The delegates’ conclusion after they posed these questions was that Mood did not have sufficient information and that he should be asked to investigate further, letting the Security Council know the results as they come up.
When the session concluded all discussions pertaining to the massacre at Houla, Ladsous announced his conclusion: “The information presented by the observers (through Mood’s briefing) is accurate and relies on tangible and proven events. The remaining unexplained and most important element is over the circumstances that led to the massacre.”
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.