The Annan-Moallem Letters: Deciphering Syria’s Six-Point Plan

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UN Arab League envoy Kofi Annan arrives by Turkish Military helicopter at Antakya Airport for a press conference after visiting the Yayladagi refugee camp in Antakya on 10 April 2012. (Photo: AFP - Bulent Kilic)

By: Nasser Charara

Published Thursday, April 12, 2012

UN and Arab League Special Envoy to Syria Kofi Annan and the Syrian foreign ministry recently aimed to reach a consensus on common standards to begin implementation of the six-point peace plan. The focus in this period will be stopping the fighting and a “cessation of armed violence…with an effective United Nations supervision mechanism.”

An Arab diplomat revealed to Al-Akhbar the details of – what he called – correspondences that took place behind the scenes between UN and Arab League Special Envoy to Syria Kofi Annan and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem from 31 March 2012 until recently, when the April 10 deadline was announced.

The diplomatic source says that the negotiations led to setting April 10 and 12 as markers in the “cessation of armed violence” but they are far from being reached.

Private correspondences between Annan and Moallem reveal the brittle nature of the two deadlines and the gaps in each party’s understanding of the second point in Annan’s peace proposal that the process has currently reached. This is in addition to the gap in their understanding of how to implement the remaining points.

How the “Ceasefire” Period Was Reached

This phase of the negotiations was initiated by Annan. On Saturday 31 March 2012, he called Moallem and informed him of his “indignation about the fact that although Syria had agreed on the six-point plan on 27 March 2012, there is no significant change on the ground” that would demonstrate its intentions to implement the agreement.

During the call, Annan tried to put “polite pressure” on the Syrian government. He noted that “Syria’s reluctance to begin the implementation of the six points comes at a time when powerful countries (referring to the Istanbul conference the next day) are pressuring him to reach a deadline with Damascus on the implementation of the six points.”

Annan reminded Moallem that he would be briefing the United Nations Security Council on the issue on 2 April 2012 and that he hoped the Syrian government would take tangible steps before then, so he could inform the council about them.

However, Annan clarified that “he does not want to announce the dates in public and prefers that the initiative come from the Syrian government, but without any pressure.”

The diplomat adds that “the negotiation formula used by Annan in his telephone conversation is based on dissatisfaction mixed with indirect pressure, alluding to the Istanbul conference and the Security Council in a manner that is non-threatening but encourages high-priority cooperation.”

Moallem replied in the same conversation saying that “he is waiting for Annan to provide him urgently with a written suggestion of what is expected from the Syrian government in implementing the six-point plan.”

Annan promptly replied by sending a plan the same day explaining the expectations related to implementing the six points comprehensively.

In practice, Annan’s proposal is twofold. The first part envisions how he expects the second point – cessation of armed violence – to be implemented, while the second touched on all remaining points in the proposal.

Concerning the first part, related to the political process, Annan considered that “it is important for the Syrian government to provide the necessary conditions for tangible progress.”

Such progress is to be achieved through the implementation of the remaining points, including the second phase calling for cessation of violence. “The Syrian government should issue military orders to immediately cease troop movements toward, and end the use of heavy weapons in, population centers, and begin a pullback of military concentrations in and around population centers,” Annan’s proposal says.

It continues that “the Syrian government must do so in a manner that would be considered a message of peace. These measures should be implemented immediately, or in any case, no later than 7 April 2012.”

Annan added, “As in the six-point plan, he will work toward achieving a full commitment to a complete cessation of violence in all its forms by all parties. A ceasefire can be reached in 48 hours after he is certain of the Syrian government’s proper implementation of its obligations under Article 2 of the plan, paragraphs a, b, and c (ceasing troop movement toward population centers, ending the use of heavy weapons, and beginning the pullback of military concentrations).”

Annan’s proposal articulates a new point that could indicate new thinking on his part. He asked Damascus for the “cooperation of its mission in New York with the UNGS concerning the procedures of announcing the ceasefire.”

The Syrian government sees this as a prelude to Annan requesting a monitoring team under Chapter VI of the UN Charter.

Moallem’s Reply

Moallem replied to Annan’s proposal with a letter, also in two parts. The first was about the second point currently under implementation.

He said that the Syrian government “is only committed to its own plan to pull back from population centers between 1 and 10 April 2012.”

“The Syrian government issued orders to cease the movement of new troops toward those neighborhoods. It considers these procedures as an indication of Syria’s commitment to the provisions of the second point of the six-point plan,” the letter stressed.

It is worth noting that Moallem’s reply spoke about a pullback from “neighborhoods” and did not use the loose term “population centers.” It emphasized that this pullback will be between “April 1 and 10” meaning that the 48-hour period requested by Annan for a complete ceasefire should have begun, according to Damascus, on April 10, not April 7 as envisioned by Annan.

Annan replied through a letter, which clarified what he had announced at the Security Council: that he would “seek a commitment from the armed opposition to cease fire by April 12.” He explained that such efforts would be undertaken “on the condition that he is convinced of the Syrian government’s proper implementation of its basic obligations by April 10.”

The Second Part of Annan’s Proposal and Moallem’s Reply

The second part of Annan’s proposal offers his views on the implementation of the remainder of the six points.

Concerning the third point on “timely provisions of humanitarian assistance,” Annan said that “the UN emergency relief coordinator Valerie Moss informed him of the tasks of the UN humanitarian mission to Syria and that the full cooperation of the Syrian government is necessary in this respect.”

On the fourth point related to the release of detainees, Annan reminded the Syrian government of its obligation “to release prisoners, especially arbitrarily detained persons, and provide the ICRC with lists of names and allow it to visit detention centers.”

Concerning the fifth point related to journalists, Annan stressed the “need to ensure freedom of movement throughout the country for journalists and a non-discriminatory visa policy for them.”

On the sixth point, he stressed that it is necessary for “the Syrian government to fulfill its obligations in the six-point plan by respecting freedom of association and guaranteeing the right to demonstrate peacefully under the law."

In the above-mentioned reply, Moallem said that they "will submit a detailed reply to Annan later about developments on these points.” He also said that the success of the plan “is contingent on the results of [Annan’s] efforts with the other parties to reach a complete cessation of armed violence in all its forms and disarming the armed groups to allow the state to extend its authority on all its territory.”

The diplomat mentioned earlier argues that there are different ways to understand and explain April 10, the date that will initiate a process to stop the violence and announce a ceasefire. It is a starting line for a long-winded race between different parties of the Syrian conflict. Each side sees the date based on their own calendar.

Countries of the Friends of Syria conference see that a cessation of violence would lead to the implementation of the sixth point calling on Syria to “respect freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully as legally guaranteed.”

They see this as the most important point to follow the end of hostilities. This will allow them to witness “a Syrian revolution based on the Egyptian model, especially in the presence of UN monitors who cannot be corrupted similarly to what happened with the Arab League monitoring team headed by General Mustafa Dabi.”

“This will be accompanied by popular gatherings in public squares that could mobilize international public opinion once more after it had moved away from the popular mobilization in Syria, which turned into a civil war with reciprocal violence, instead of a peaceful popular revolution.”

The diplomat adds that this is the opinion of the European Union and the United States to some degree. But this opinion is not completely accepted by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. They do not see Annan’s mission and the implementation of the second point as a further effort to topple the Syrian regime but rather as an opportunity for the regime to calmly contain the popular protests and break its isolation on the international level.

According to the same source Turkey seems lost between the two viewpoints. They are attempting to reach a compromise through raising the ceiling of its declarations without taking tangible steps on the ground.

On the other hand, the Syrian regime knows that Annan’s plan is full of pitfalls and could overturn military achievements on the ground. It therefore took measures to reduce the possibility of its enemies benefiting from the second point on ceasing armed violence, which would lead to an upsurge of peaceful demonstrations.

To this effect, the Syrian regime imposed a new law on peaceful demonstrations requiring a prior permit from the interior ministry. But this law will not protect the regime from the possibility of daily unlicensed protests so it is resorting to planning counter demonstrations in support of the regime.

The latest demonstration organized by the Baath in Damascus seems to be a model, with security forces intervening between demonstrators to avoid a clash.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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