Annan: Not too late for diplomatic solution in Syria

Damascus gives qualified support to today’s cease-fire, but analysts say time for diplomacy has long passed.

Annan gives a statement after his address to UNSC 370 (photo credit: reu)
Annan gives a statement after his address to UNSC 370
(photo credit: reu)
It is still too early to declare the failure of diplomatic efforts in Syria, the international envoy to the country said Wednesday, but analysts were skeptical that a cease-fire deadline set for Thursday could hold.
Kofi Annan, representing the UN and the Arab League, said the Syrian government had assured him it would stop fighting by dawn Thursday. On Tuesday, Syrian forces assaulted several anti-government locations in contravention of Annan’s instructions to pull back from opposition flashpoints.
“The cease-fire is unlikely to be respected,” said Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, an adjunct fellow at the Middle East Forum think tank. “The country is too deeply mired in conflict to bring about a peaceful resolution now. The fact is that for the regime, and its Alawite supporters in particular, the mentality is one of a zero-sum game.
“I think diplomacy is futile, but a no-fly zone would be a good step, especially in light of what appear to be new bombing attacks by the Assad regime,” Tamimi told The Jerusalem Post.
At a news conference in Tehran, Annan urged the Islamic Republic to help resolve the violence and warned of “unimaginable consequences” if the situation deteriorated further.
Annan said his plan, endorsed by the UN Security Council, must be given a chance to work.
“If everyone respects it, I think by six in the morning on Thursday we shall see improved conditions on the ground,” he said at the start of a two-day visit intended to get Iran to pressure its Syrian ally to help wind down the conflict.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Syrians should be able to have free elections contested by political parties, but reiterated Iran’s opposition to any outside interference in Syria’s affairs and made clear Tehran wanted the current Syrian president to stay in charge.
“The opportunity must be given to the Syrian government to make changes, under the leadership of Bashar Assad,” he said. Iran, along with Russia and to a lesser extent China, are among the only allies Damascus has left after a year-long counterinsurgency believed to have claimed between 9,000 and 10,000 lives.
At least 12 people were killed on Wednesday, anti-government activists said.
Activists continued to upload grisly video footage of the crackdown to YouTube. On Tuesday they posted a clip from the northwestern Aleppo region showing the bodies of an entire family apparently burned alive in a shelling assault.
Syrian state media, meanwhile, sought to divert attention elsewhere. The English-language Sana News Agency reported on an event organized in Damascus on Wednesday described as “The Levant Conference to Support al-Quds.”
It said 95 scholars from around the region had assembled, “under Assad’s patronage,” to “confront the serious Zionist practices to judaize Jerusalem and destroy al-Aksa Mosque.”
“They called upon the scholars in the Arab and Islamic nations to revive the culture of resistance among their people in order to defend rights and the holy sacred places, in addition to devoting religious discourse to support resistance in Palestine, south of Lebanon and the occupied Syrian Golan,” the report said, adding that the attendees had expressed their support for Syrian unity in the face of “conspiracies.”
The Assad government said it would abide by Annan’s Thursday cease-fire, but reserved the right to “respond proportionately to any attacks carried out by armed terrorist groups against civilians, government forces or public and private property.”
The main opposition said that if Assad fails to respect a cease-fire, the world should unite against him using an arms embargo and other sanctions.
“The chances that by tomorrow the regime will implement or abide by the cease-fire are weak, as we all know,” Syrian National Council spokeswoman Basma Kodmani said in Geneva.
“We would like to see a unanimous decision by members of the UN Security Council that sends an ultimatum to the regime – with a deadline that is not too far down the road – that says on such-and-such a date enforcement measures will intervene,” she said.
Western powers, too, have scorned Assad’s truce pledges, but so far lack an effective policy to curb the bloodshed, given their own aversion to military intervention and the resistance of Russia and China to any Security Council action.
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UN action would need the support of Russia and China, which have blocked previous Security Council draft resolutions on Syria, citing concerns about a Libya-style intervention that would breach Syrian sovereignty.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she would meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday to seek a policy change from one of Assad’s few foreign friends.
“We will have another go at trying to persuade the Russians that the situation is deteriorating and the likelihood of regional conflict and civil war is increasing,” she said.
Turkey, hosting nearly 25,000 Syrian refugees, said its Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu would discuss the Syria crisis with counterparts from the G8 on Wednesday evening, via a video conference call.
Ankara has urged the Security Council to adopt a resolution that would protect the Syrian people, saying Damascus had not kept its troop withdrawal pledge and had increased the violence.
On Wednesday, an activist in the city of Hama said at least 20 armored vehicles had moved into two central neighborhoods, while an opposition supporter in Rastan, between Hama and Homs, said heavy shelling of the town began after the announcement by the Syrian government that it would respect the cease-fire.
“Far from fulfilling their commitment, the regime has cynically exploited the window of diplomatic negotiations to crack down even harder on its own people,” British Prime Minister David Cameron said during a visit to Indonesia.
“This is a decisive moment,” Cameron said, adding – in remarks clearly pointed at Moscow and Beijing – that the Security Council now had “a clear responsibility” to throw its weight behind Annan’s plan and insist it is implemented.
Reuters contributed to this report.