By John HeilPrin/Associated Press
Geneva: Frustrated by Syria's escalating civil war, Kofi Annan announced Thursday that he will quit his high-profile role as special envoy to the country at the end of the month, giving reasons that amounted to scathing criticism of world powers' failure to unite to stop the chaos in the Arab state.
He also asserted that Syrian President Bashar Assad must leave office for the good of his country.
Annan told reporters that when he accepted the job, "which some called 'Mission Impossible,'" he wanted to help the international community, led by the UN Security Council, find a peaceful solution to the crisis. The goal was to stop the killings of civilians and human rights abuses, as well as to place Syria on a path toward political transition.
"The severity of the humanitarian costs of the conflict, and the exceptional threats posed by this crisis to international peace and security, justified the attempts to secure a peaceful transition to a political settlement, however daunting the challenge," Annan said.
But the former UN secretary-general told reporters that he cannot go on when the New York-based, 15-nation Security Council doesn't fully back him, particularly because of the stalemate between its five veto-wielding members: Russia and China on one side, the United States, Britain and France on the other.
"Things fell apart in New York," he summed up. "The increasing militarisation on the ground (in Syria) and the clear lack of unity in the Security Council have fundamentally changed the circumstances for the effective exercise of my role."
Annan was named the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria in February, overseeing a small staff in a secretive office accessible through a makeshift elevator entrance in the sprawling Palais des Nations, the UN's European headquarters in Geneva. He came up with a six-point peace plan to resolve Syria's crisis, including a cease-fire that was supposed to take effect in mid-April.
But, despite the presence of hundreds of UN observers on the ground, the cease-fire never took hold and the violence in Syria has morphed into a civil war. Rights activists say that more than 19,000 people have died since the popular uprising against Assad began in March 2011.
Annan notified UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Nabil El Araby, that he would leave office when his appointment expires Aug. 31.
"The bloodshed continues, most of all because of the Syrian government's intransigence, and continuing refusal to implement the six-point plan, and also because of the escalating military campaign of the opposition — all of which is compounded by the disunity of the international community," Annan said.
"At a time when we need — when the Syrian people desperately need action — there continues to be finger-pointing and name-calling in the Security Council."
On June 30, Annan succeeded in getting the major powers on the council — including stalwart Syria allies Russia and China — to agree on a broad framework for a political transition in Syria, one that he said "meant President Assad would have to leave sooner or later." But the Security Council never formally endorsed the plan or acted on it, something that sorely disappointed the envoy and, he said, undermined his efforts.
Without international unity, including the cooperation of regional powers, "it is impossible for me, or anyone, to compel the Syrian government in the first place, and also the opposition, to take the steps necessary to begin a political process. You have to understand: as an envoy, I can't want peace more than the protagonists, more than the Security Council or the international community for that matter," he told reporters at an impromptu press conference in Geneva.
Annan did not single out any member of the Security Council by name for criticism during the press conference. But in an op-ed column published by the Financial Times on Thursday, he urged several countries to look beyond their national interests and rivalries to solve the Syrian crisis.
"For Russia, China and Iran this means they must take concerted efforts to persuade Syria's leadership to change course and embrace a political transition, realising the current government has lost all legitimacy," Annan wrote, adding: "For the US, UK, France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar this means pressing the opposition to embrace a fully inclusive political process — that will include communities and institutions currently associated with the government."
Annan also had harsh words for the Syrian government and what he called its "intransigence." In what was his strongest statement to date about the Syrian leader, Annan wrote, "It is clear that President Bashar al-Assad must leave office."
Annan's announcement coincided with Arab countries dropping a demand that Assad resign in the latest draft of a symbolic UN General Assembly resolution that faces a Friday vote in New York. The watered-down resolution further illustrated the international struggle to build an effective diplomatic approach to Syria's civil war.