Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan is stepping down as the UN-Arab League mediator in the 17-month-old Syria conflict at the end of the month, the UN said on Thursday, the latest sign that the outlook for a diplomatic solution is bleak.
Annan said he was quitting as international envoy to Syria, complaining that his April peace plan had not received the support it deserved from major powers.
Speaking to reporters in Geneva, Annan cited “finger-pointing and name-calling” in the 15-nation Security Council, which he said had prevented coordinated action to end the bloodshed, as one of the reasons for his decision to step down.
“Mr Annan has informed me, and the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Mr Nabil Elaraby, of his intention not to renew his mandate when it expires on Aug. 31,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement, adding that he and Elaraby were in discussions on appointing a successor to Annan.
“Kofi Annan deserves our profound admiration for the selfless way in which he has put his formidable skills and prestige to this most difficult and potentially thankless of assignments,” Ban said.
Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin was quick to react, suggesting to reporters outside the Security Council in New York that Moscow was disappointed that Annan was bowing out.
“We understand that it’s his decision,” Churkin told reporters. “We regret that he chose to do so. We have supported very strongly Kofi Annan’s efforts ... ”
Churkin added he was encouraged that Ban was looking for a successor to Annan.
Council diplomats have said privately that the US and Gulf Arab states have become increasingly frustrated in recent weeks with what they saw as Annan’s dogged commitment to diplomacy at a time when they believe all avenues for dialogue with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have been exhausted.
Churkin quickly started finger-pointing about Annan’s departure, suggesting that Western powers that opposed “reasonable and balanced proposals” in the council undermined Annan’s peace efforts from the start.
However, Western diplomats blame Russia and China for vetoing three council resolutions intended to ratchet up the pressure on al-Assad to stop his attacks on civilians and halt the fighting, which has escalated into a full-scale civil war.
In spite of this, China expressed regret today over Annan’s resignation and said it would continue to “work for a political resolution” to the conflict. Beijing also said it wanted the UN to play an important role in trying to solve the deadly 17-month conflict.
“China expresses regret at Annan’s resignation. We understand the difficulty of Annan’s mediation work, and respect his decision,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei (洪磊) said in a statement. “China supports the UN playing an important role in the appropriate resolution of the Syrian issue.”
Iran said the blame lies on the West, especially the US, for the failure of Annan’s peace plan, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi was reported as saying yesterday by Iraniana state media.
“The West and some regional countries did not want Annan to succeed,” he said, quoted by the IRNA news agency. “Every time Mr Annan sought to resolve the Syrian crisis, the West created obstacles.”
Salehi said Annan’s resignation was due to intransigence by the US, not by Russia and China as US officials have asserted.