Kofi Annan continues his efforts to broker a peace deal in Syria, with a meeting Monday in Damascus with President Bashar Al-Assad. In an exclusive interview published Sunday in Le Monde, Annan speaks with notable frankness about why his mission has not succeeded, including a lack of trust from Moscow and Beijing and not enough attention on Tehran's intentions.
LE MONDE: Syria has been plagued by violence for the past 16 months, and things seem to be getting worse. By some counts, there have been 16,000 deaths, there are 1.5 million people in need of humanitarian aid and 100,000 have fled to neighboring countries.
KOFI ANNAN: The crisis started 16 months ago, but I only got involved three months ago. We made important efforts to try and deal with the situation peacefully and politically. Clearly, we havent succeeded. And there is no guarantee that we will eventually succeed. Have we thought about alternatives? Have we put other options on the table? Thats what I told the UN Security Council, adding that the mission was limited in time and so was my own role.
The statement on political transition in Syria drafted on June 30 in Geneva doesnt include a deadline. Doesnt that give Bashar Al-Assad another opportunity to buy time?
We didnt include a deadline in order to underline the fact that the Syrians themselves have to lead the process. We dont want to impose anything, nothing unrealistic. A deadline can only result from negotiations.
You seem to be banking on Russias influence. What makes you think Russia has any incentive to produce a transition in Syria?
Is there an alternative? Russia, like many other countries involved in this case, has interests in Syria and in the region. If you agree that there are also common interests, in the medium and long term, then the question becomes: how do we protect those interests?
More than anything we must think of the Syrians and those who live in the region. I hope reason will prevail, at least regarding the protection of the interests of different states. In this case, it is in Russias and other countries interest to find a way of working together.
Is the most realistic scenario to have Russians push for a change in policy in Syria, while making sure that the security apparatus remains heavily linked to them?
Many factors are at play here. Events are created by many actors. Russia has influence, but Im not sure events will be determined by Russia alone.
Are you referring to Iran?
Iran is an actor and so it should be a part of the solution. It has influence and we cannot ignore that. (Westerns powers refused to have Iran take par in the June 30 action group.)
What strikes me is that there are so many comments made about Russia, while Iran isnt mentioned; and more importantly, few things are said about other countries sending arms, money and weighing in on the situation on the ground. All these countries pretend they want a peaceful solution, but they take individual and collective actions that go against the meaning of the Security Council resolutions. The fact that everyone is focusing solely on the Russians makes them very irritated.
The Syrian opposition thinks that the Geneva statement makes too many concessions, particularly to Russia.
Its a shame that the opposition reacted this way. The Geneva statement was written by a group in which 80% of countries belong to the friends of Syria group (on July 6 they called for Bashar Al-Assads departure from power.) Thats why its odd to claim that the opposition was betrayed or sold out.
Without a real truce, does it make sense to have about 300 UN observers on the ground?
People say that the unarmed observers werent able to stop the violence, but that was never their role! They went into Syria to see whether both sides were respecting their pledge to stop the violence.
In Syria, whats left of the responsibility to protect, a concept you helped create as UN Secretary General after the Bosnian war and the Rwandan genocide?
Honestly, the way the responsibility to protect was used in Libya created a problem for the concept. The Russians and the Chinese believe they were tricked. They had agreed on a UN resolution, which was then transformed into a process of regime change, which wasnt the initial goal according to these countries. Whenever we talk about Syria, theres that elephant in the room.
Can military defections, especially that of General Tlass, be a result of diplomacy?
Weve been reading reports on defections and the most recent case involves a very important figure, but its hard to determine what triggered these decisions.
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