Annan’s departure sparks blame game
New York - Former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan is quitting as international peace envoy for Syria, frustrated by “finger-pointing” at the UN while the armed rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad becomes increasingly bloody.
As battles raged on Thursday in Syria's second city Aleppo between rebel fighters and government forces using war planes and artillery, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced in New York that Annan had said he would go at the end of the month.
“Kofi Annan deserves our profound admiration for the selfless way in which he has put his formidable skills and prestige to this most difficult and potentially thankless of assignments,” Ban said. Talks were under way to find a successor.
Annan's mission, centred on an April ceasefire that never took hold, has looked irrelevant as fighting has intensified in Damascus, Aleppo and elsewhere.
Annan blamed “finger-pointing and name-calling” at the UN Security Council for his decision to quit but suggested his successor may have better luck.
Russia, the United States, Britain and France began pointing fingers at each other over who was responsible for Annan's sudden announcement that he would depart. One senior council diplomat said it was now time to acknowledge the “utter irrelevance of an impotent Security Council” on Syria.
Syria expressed regret that Annan was going.
Annan suggested that the continued arming of all sides in the conflict and the Security Council deadlock had undermined his ability to pursue a diplomatic solution.
“The increasing militarisation on the ground and the clear lack of unity in the Security Council, have fundamentally changed the circumstances for the effective exercise of my role,” Annan told reporters.
In an editorial published on the Financial Times' website, Annan said Russia, China and Iran “must take concerted efforts to persuade Syria's leadership to change course and embrace a political transition” - meaning the departure of Assad.
“It is clear that President Bashar al-Assad must leave office,” Annan said.
Annan wrote that Western powers, the Saudis and Qatar must start “pressing the opposition to embrace a fully inclusive political process - that will include communities and institutions currently associated with the government”.
Ban's spokesperson Martin Nesirky declined to comment on who might replace Annan but said a decision might come soon.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, a strong supporter of Assad, said he regretted Annan's decision to step aside and referred to him as a “brilliant diplomat”.
Moscow's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin suggested to reporters in New York that Western powers which had opposed “reasonable and balanced proposals” in the Security Council had undermined Annan's peace efforts from the start.
The White House had a different interpretation. It pinned the blame squarely on Moscow and Beijing, which together vetoed three resolutions intended to increase the pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, thereby undercutting Annan.
“Annan's resignation highlights the failure at the United Nations Security Council of Russia and China to support resolutions, meaningful resolutions, against Assad that would have held Assad accountable,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said told reporters aboard Air Force One.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague echoed that view.
“We understand Annan's frustration that, due to vetoes in the Security Council, the international community was unable to give him the support that he needed and requested,” Hague said in a statement.
Hague reiterated that Annan's six-point peace plan for Syria was still the best option for securing an end to the conflict. French Ambassador Gerard Araud, Security Council president this month, shared that view.
Washington, UN diplomats say, has been convinced that the Security Council can not play a meaningful role in the Syria crisis since Russia and China first vetoed a Western- and Arab-backed resolution in October. But it reluctantly supported European efforts to try to get the council to take action.
US Ambassador Susan Rice issued a statement that made no mention of the United Nations playing a role in resolving the Syria conflict.
“We will continue to work urgently with our partners in the international community - including the over 100 countries in the Friends of the Syrian People - to accelerate the transition, provide support to the opposition, and meet the increasingly grave humanitarian needs of the Syrian people,” Rice said.
Council diplomats have said privately that the United States and Gulf Arab states have become increasingly frustrated in recent weeks with what they saw as Annan's dogged commitment to diplomacy at a time when they believe all avenues for dialogue with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have been exhausted.
France's UN envoy Araud said the council appeared to be “irreconcilably” deadlocked, but said it would be dangerous for countries to go outside the United Nations to resolve the Syria conflict.
But that is already happening. The United States, other Western powers, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are increasing support for the rebels, UN diplomats say, and are reconciling themselves to the view that Syria's civil war will be long and bloody. - Reuters