Rami Khouri writes: It must be depressing for Kofi Annan, the United Nations-Arab League envoy to Syria, to hear at every turn that the “Annan plan” for resolving the conflict is dead, and that country will soon plunge into a full-fledged sectarian civil war. My impression is that Annan is resolute, and is just now nearing the make-or-break point of his difficult mission. He has sketched out a path of critical steps – including local, regional and global actors – needed to avert all-out war and instead peacefully negotiate future governance arrangements.
I get this impression from talks this week with authoritative sources close to the Annan mission, who underscore the urgency of action to damp down the use of violence across Syria, to start implementing the plan’s points, and to rebuild enough trust for a political negotiation.
Beyond the escalating violence, an added element of urgency is that the international community may not see this as an open-ended process, but might pull the plug soon if violence continues, I was told. Therefore the urgency now is to get all parties to start complying with the six points of the Annan plan, including a cease-fire, release of prisoners and pullback of heavy weapons from urban areas.
This clearly requires pressure from outside parties, which is why the Annan team is exploring possible ways to bring “intense external pressure” on President Bashar Assad’s regime to start complying with the cease-fire terms.
That pressure must come primarily from Russia, but the Annan team is also in touch regularly with others who support Syria, such as Iran and China. The hope is that if the key external parties – in this case the United States and Russia – can reach minimum agreement with others in the international community on the importance of collective action to nudge the parties to comply with the Annan plan, Syria might be spared a devastating explosion of violence that engulfs the whole country and perhaps spills over to neighboring countries. [Continue reading…]