Annan plans to return to Syria, urges UN unity

AP News
Posted: Mar 16, 2012 3:44 PM
Annan plans to return to Syria, urges UN unity

Special envoy Kofi Annan warned Friday the Syria conflict can have a "serious impact" regionally if not handled properly, saying he will return to Damascus if an advance team makes progress on implementing his proposals to end the bloodshed.

The former U.N. secretary-general told reporters after briefing the Security Council in New York by videoconference that he appealed for unity from its deeply divided members in order to send a strong signal of support to the Syrian government and opposition for his difficult and complex mission.

Russia and China have vetoed two U.S. and European-backed council resolutions that would have condemned President Bashar Assad's bloody crackdown, which has left more than 8,000 people dead, saying they were unbalanced and demanded that only the government stop attacks, not the opposition. Moscow, a longtime Syrian ally, has also accused Western powers of fueling the conflict by backing the rebels.

"The first objective is for all of us to end the violence and human rights abuses and the killings and get unimpeded access for humanitarian access to the needy," Annan said, "and of course the all-important issue of political process that will lead to a democratic Syria, fulfilling the aspirations of the Syrian people."

Annan, the joint U.N. and Arab League special envoy, held two rounds of talks with Assad last weekend and made a series of proposals, which he said are aimed at stopping the violence, accelerating humanitarian assistance and establishing "credibility and confidence for the political process when it is initiated."

U.N. diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because Annan's briefing was private, said Annan told the council that Syria's response to his proposals has been disappointing so far.

Annan told the reporters the proposals remain on the table and that's why he is sending a technical team to Damascus this weekend to pursue the discussions, "and at the appropriate time, when I deem sufficient progress has been made, I shall be prepared to go back to the region."

His spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, told AP earlier that the mission would discuss practical steps to implement Annan's proposals including an immediate cessation of the violence and killing and ways to monitor a ceasefire.

According to the U.N. diplomats, Annan said the stronger and more unified the message from the Security Council, the better the chances of shifting the dynamics of the conflict.

He noted that unified pressure has worked on Syria before, leading to the country's withdrawal of its troops from Lebanon in 2005 following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a truck bomb in Beirut that killed 22 others, the diplomats said.

"I encouraged the council to speak with one voice as we try to resolve the crisis in Syria," Annan told reporters a the U.N.'s European headquarters in Geneva. "There have been some differences, but that is also normal."

Britain's U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, the current council president, refused to discuss details of Annan's briefing, but said all members "pledged their full support and agreed that a united message from the Security Council would help his mission."

Asked about the possibility of a new Security Council resolution, he said "consultations continue on that issue."

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told a news conference the government has encouraged the Syrian government to cooperate with Annan and he called on the West to "urge the opposition not to provoke the exacerbation of tensions" and cooperate with Annan as well.

Syria's Foreign Ministry told the Security Council on Friday that Damascus will continue its crackdown, but also will cooperate with Annan, fueling fears among humanitarian groups that Assad merely wants more time to stamp out the opposition.

Annan said resolving the crisis in "Syria will be much more complex" than Libya, where the Security Council authorized military action to protect civilians, but he recognized that time is an issue in negotiations.

"If you come to the conclusion or make the judgment that it's a waste of time _ or one side is playing for time _ you draw the consequences and take appropriate action," he said.

While in Syria, Annan recounted, he talked not only with Assad and the foreign minister, but also with opposition, religious and civil society leaders along with business people and the head of the Syrian National Council in Ankara, Turkey.

He said the opposition figures he met _ who were not part of the armed opposition _ were keen to get talks going to resolve differences politically and peacefully, but were impatient, angry and "impatient" because the killings have continued and they want to see results.

Some opposition groups, however, reject any talks with the Assad government saying it's too late and he must be replaced.

"The region is extremely concerned about developments in Syria," Annan said. "Their concern goes beyond Syria itself, because the crisis can have serious impact for the whole region if it's not handled effectively. I'm doing my best with the support of everyone to try and find a peaceful solution."


Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations in New York and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.