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World

Annan despairs of Syria

After Kofi Annan’s announcement not to continue the mission in Syria, the parties concerned are blaming each other. Others are already thinking about different options for ending the conflict.

Kofi Annan's announcement that he will not continue his mediating role between the civil war parties in Syria after his mandate ends at the end of August has been received with regret and disillusion worldwide. There are two principal reasons: For one thing, the United Nations, the Arab League and with them Syria's civilians lose an extremely skilful diplomat. Secondly, Annan's resignation shows that the conflict can probably no longer be solved by diplomacy.

Syrien UN Sicherheitsrat Archivbild

There is no unanimity in the UN Security Council

There was a "lack of unanimity within the international community" that was making his mission difficult, said Annan, expressing his feeling that he didn't receive enough support from the international community represented by the UN Security Council. "While the Syrian population is desperately calling for action, there is continual finger-pointing and name-calling in the Security Council," Annan said.

Reactions from Germany

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle took up that point. "It's clear that Kofi Annan put down his mandate partly because of the blockade within the Security Council, which has been caused by Russia and China," said a statement he issued Thursday. Assad didn't fulfill his promises, Westerwelle added. That's why "it's high time that Russia and China withdraw their protective hands." Assad's successor, he said, could only be successful if the international community stands together.

Several German politicians expressed their dismay at Annan's announcement not to continue his mandate. "In my view it's a dramatic signal when a renowned man like Annan who has tried everything says 'I just didn't get anywhere'," Rainer Stinner, foreign policy spokesperson in Germany's Free Democratic Party (FDP) told Deutsche Welle. "That means that the civil war cannot be stopped from outside with the current means at our disposal."

A battle on two fronts

Some Syrian rebels had been watching Annan's mission with some skepticism for a while. In a mid-July interview with DW, Rafif Jouejati warned against expecting too much of diplomatic initiatives. The spokeswoman for a local coordination commission made the comment after the massacre of Tremseh. She said she didn't know whether you could expect a political solution to the conflict: "It's quite obvious that Assad intends to give up power only if he's forced to do so with violence."

Syrien UN Kofi Annan zu Gespräche in Damaskus mit Präsident Bashar al-Assad

Futile diplomacy: Kofi Annan in discussion with Bashar Assad

For that reason, the opposition did not want to talk to Assad, severely hampering Annan's diplomatic mission. And the Assad regime added its own obstacles. Political scientist Michael Brzoska, director of the Institute for Peace Studies and Security Policy at Hamburg University, told DW that Annan had to fight a battle on two fronts.

At first, the diplomat did have chances to make his mission a success. Initially, Assad's government showed signs that concessions would be possible. They organized a referendum on a new constitution and announced they would open up the party system. "But those were never truly trustworthy offers. And it was always clear – at least from the opposition's point of view – that essentially the Assad clan and the Alavis supporting this plan intended to stay in power." On the other hand, the opposition tried very early on to achieve a military strength which would make any political compromise superfluous. "That means that the opposition wasn't particularly keen on finding a compromise either."

Consistent decision

It's quite possible that the willingness to compromise would have been bigger if Russia and China had decided to exert more pressure on Assad – the opposition could then also have opted for a more careful strategy. But both Russia and China remained fixated on their positions, making it easy for Assad to continue, said Brzoska. Against the background of those two fronts Annan's decision was understandable, he said. "His resignation is a consistent move because there's hardly any chance at all of solving the conflict diplomatically."

Syrische Flüchtlinge im Libanon

The Syrians' suffering continues

This puts Germany and Europe under even greater pressure to try and ease the conflict, said Stinner. It's in their own interest to do so, he added, because a widening of the conflict from Syria into neighboring countries was to be avoided at all costs. "Syria is embedded in the region in many ways, and it would have unforeseeable consequences if the civil war spread from there," he said. "This would destabilize the region even further. That can't be in our interest."

The German way

This attitude will define the course Germany will take in the coming weeks and months. The top priority will be to contribute to a peaceful solution of the conflict. "Our position is not to demand a military intervention from outside because that would have further unforeseeable consequences," said Stinner. "All other ways have to be considered. That's the German and the European position."

The upcoming tasks will certainly be difficult. And even Annan hasn't completely given up hope yet, despite his resignation from the mission. "The world is full of crazy people”, he added after his announcement and said that that included himself. "So don't be surprised if Secretary General Ban finds somebody who does a better job than me."

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