Why a UN Syria peace plan poses a challenge to rebels

Tony Karon writes: The Kofi Annan peace plan unanimously endorsed Wednesday by the U.N. Security Council may pose an even greater dilemma for the Syrian opposition than it does for the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. That’s because while it demands a halt to the regime’s military operations against opposition strongholds, it also retreats from the previous insistence by Western and Arab countries — and the Syrian opposition — that Assad immediately step down and hand power to a unity government as the starting point of a political solution to the year-long uprising. Instead, the Security Council statement calls for

  • both the regime’s forces and armed opposition groups to accept a U.N.-supervised cease-fire;
  • daily pauses for humanitarian assistance;
  • the regime to release prisoners;
  • freedom of access for journalists;
  • freedom of assembly for peaceful protest; and for
  • “the Syrian government and opposition to work in good faith with the Envoy [Annan] towards a peaceful settlement of the Syrian crisis” by engaging “in an inclusive Syrian-led political process to address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people”.

It remains to be seen whether the regime will honor its stated willingness to engage in a political dialogue if the opposition puts down its weapons. It would certainly face massive peaceful protests if it honored Annan’s terms, and it has no intention of ceding power even if it talks of constitutional reform while shelling opposition strongholds. But the Council statement carries considerable weigh by the fact that it was endorsed by Russia and China, which had vetoed previous resolutions precisely because they demanded that Assad step down. The new resolution, and Assad’s mission, appears to reflect an acceptance that he’ll be at the table in any political dialogue to resolve the conflict.

But the demand that the opposition negotiate with the regime on the terms laid down by Annan poses a dilemma for the fractured Syrian rebellion, some of whose leaders are set to convene in Turkey on Thursday and Friday: What is won at the negotiating table typically reflects the balance of power on the ground. And the reality, there, is that the Assad regime has proven far more resilient than its domestic and foreign opponents had assumed it would be.

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