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Is Annan’s Peace Plan for Syria at a Dead End?

June 7, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
"Syria cannot be peaceful, stable or certainly democratic until [President] Assad goes," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday, calling the latest near massacre "unconscionable." Ray Suarez and The Washington Post's Colum Lynch discuss the latest diplomatic maneuvering over Syria at the United Nations.
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RAY SUAREZ: Military action wasn’t on the agenda at the U.N.

Just a short time ago, Ban Ki-Moon warned that civil war is imminent and real and that the international community needs to take bold action.

For the latest on the diplomatic maneuvering at the United Nations, we check in with Colum Lynch of The Washington Post.

Colum, the peace plan put forth by Kofi Annan and approved by U.N. members hasn’t changed the situation on the ground in Syria. Is there a new initiative circulating, a new Annan plan, and, if so, how is it different?

COLUM LYNCH, The Washington Post: Well, I mean, there is a feeling that the Annan plan, which is supposed to start a political dialogue between the opposition and the government, has hit a dead end.

The government is not willing to talk. The opposition is not willing to participate in talk. We’re seeing all the violence unfolding. Kofi has been — Kofi Annan has been looking for some way to recharge the diplomacy and he seems to be exploring this idea of setting up a contact group that would involve many of the members that are already in the Security Council, the United States, the Europeans, Britain, France and Russia.

It would also — at least he’s trying to include some of the key regional players who have an interest in the region, Turkey, Saudi Arabia. He had floated the idea of Iran, but the Americans are not that keen on sitting down with the Iranians.

But the idea is essentially to achieve the same thing, but to bring in some players who have more influence on Syria. However, Russia has always been part of the political mediation. It has, perhaps, more influence than just about anyone else, maybe not Iran — or both of those countries have a lot of influence.

So I think that the whole game now is to try and put together a new process to try and get particularly Russia to use its influence to put pressure on Assad to accept a political transition, one that would lead to his removal, his having to step down from power. They haven’t been willing to do it yet.

They have sent some hints that they may be softening a little bit. The Russian ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, told the council that Russia is not wedded to Assad today. He said that behind closed doors, said that if there’s some political transition that leads to his departure, they wouldn’t — they wouldn’t sort of cry over that, they would be perfectly willing to go along with that, but they said it will have to be left up to parties to decide themselves.

And that’s a big question mark. Would Assad ever be willing to agree to a process that would lead to him stepping down? And so far he has looked like a man who wants to stay where he is.

RAY SUAREZ: Kofi Annan is often a pretty restrained guy, very careful in the way he uses language. But it also sounds that back in New York he’s saying this is a pretty serious situation in Syria.

COLUM LYNCH: Well, I think there’s a lot at stake for Syria, for the international community. There’s real concerns.

And particularly what we’re seeing is some really awful, violent massacres taking place. There’s a real concern that this could explode, that it wouldn’t only affect Syria, but that it would spread throughout the region, that it could play into the regional tensions between religious Sunnis and Shia, that you could see a lot worse than we’re seeing now.

And I think that his — you know, his sort of discussions have been really focused on trying to get everybody to focus on how bad things could get. And part of this is a way of trying to spook some of the key players, including Russia and the others to get behind a concerted strategy that would put pressure on the parties to accept some sort of transition.

I mean, this was the first time you heard Kofi using the words that there needs to be consequences for anybody who stands in the way of a political transition. And that could mean things like sanctions. I don’t think anybody’s talking about use of military force here, but other means of pressure.

RAY SUAREZ: Colum Lynch covers the U.N. for The Washington Post.

Thanks a lot.

COLUM LYNCH: All right. Thanks for having me, Ray.