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Expert: Annan's mission 'politically suicidal'

Kofi Annan's resignation as joint special envoy to Syria has thrown the political process there into uncertainty. DW spoke to Vivien Pertusot of the Institut Francais des Relations Internationales (IFRI) in Brussels.

DW: What do you make of Kofi Annan's resignation?

Vivien Pertusot: I think it was a diplomatic "mission impossible" to start with and it was doomed to fail from the beginning. There are several factors to consider. There was a lot of impatience from both western nations - US, Britain and the European Union - as well from actors on the ground especially the Syrian opposition. This makes it very difficult for a mediator to do his job effectively because mediation takes time and patience.

Annan also did not have the support and unity from international actors such as Russia, China, the EU and the US. It's very difficult to achieve anything substantial without unity at that international level. And Annan needed a broad mandate with a lot of resources. That was not the case. What he had was very minimal and that makes the job very difficult in a situation as explosive as Syria is today.

Annan has said it wasn't just growing violence but also "continuous finger-pointing and name-calling" at the UN Security Council that made his job untenable and prevented any consensus. Do you agree?

The unfortunate thing is that Annan did not get the political support he wanted. There are three aspects to this. Firstly, it's very difficult as a mediator to do your job properly if you don't have the support from the people who gave you the mandate.

Secondly, Annan didn't see any potential for the mandate to succeed. Annan has a lot of experience with mediation both before and after his time as UN secretary-general. He believes mediation takes time to try and find a compromise between different parties on the ground. But he felt it couldn't work in the situation in Syria because there was too much impatience.

And thirdly, for successful mediation you need to have parties to talk to. In the case of Syria you have the government and the rebels. The government is closed to negotiation although they showed some signs earlier that they were open. And the Syrian opposition is very disunited, it has no leader that can speak for everyone and there is disagreement on their objectives. So, basically it was impossible for Annan to bring the two sides to the table.

Is Annan's resignation indicative that the political process in Syria has failed?

I think the political process is over in the sense that Annan's peace plan seems to have failed due to complete disunity at the international level which is unfortunate. But at the same time it doesn't close the door to the political process altogether. If the process is to work there has to be a change in the attitude, tone and policies of different countries. That includes Russia and China but also Iran - which we often forget plays such an influential role in Syria - as well other Arab states such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia who are arming the rebel groups.

Annan however also faced criticism especially from Syrian activists and Arab commentators who say he allowed himself to be used by President Bashar Assad and the Syrian government's Russian and Chinese backers. Do you think Annan's legacy will be tarnished by his failure in Syria?

I agree that Annan's tenure as special envoy in Syria was controversial. Annan is fairly straightforward. He doesn't believe in the concept of neutrality but of impartiality. So, basically he does speak out and that can cause tensions among different parties. So his role has been fairly controversial. But I don't believe that his legacy will be blemished by what has happened in the past few months. For now, there will be a lot of criticism and talk of failure. But I can imagine that in a few weeks, months and even years people will understand that it was next to impossible for him to achieve anything given the positions of the different actors in the Syrian conflict.

But Syria isn't Kofi Annan's first diplomatic setback. He's been associated with some of the UN's greatest failures - he was head of UN peacekeeping during mass killings in Bosnia and Rwanda.

I agree that Annan's past endeavors have not always been successful. At the same time, his task in Syria was vastly different from previous endeavors. He's not UN Secretary-General anymore so he had few resources, a small team, little political backing and more importantly, no institution behind him. It was a bit politically suicidal and extremely risky for him to accept this mission in the first place. To be fair, if you look at his entire career you might disassociate Syria from his list of failures given the circumstances.

The UN and Arab League have said they are looking for a replacement for Annan. But do you think anyone approaching the stature and profile of Kofi Annan can be found to take on the task?

That's a million-dollar question. I don't think it will too much of a problem to find a replacement. But it will very difficult to find someone with the same international stature and experience in international mediation. I don't think the UN and Arab League will try to find someone as prominent and visible as Annan. That brings with it extremely high expectations. If you have someone less visible, then you downgrade expectations and maybe have more successful mediation.

Vivien Pertusot heads the Brussels office of the Institut Francais des Relations Internationales (IFRI).

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