In Praise of Kofi Annan

This morning, Kofi Annan’s office announced that Damascus has accepted his Six Point Plan to end the crisis in Syria.  This is potentially a big turning point in the year long struggle in Syria, and the timing of the announcement suggests that Kofi Annan deserves much credit for the turnaround.

Quick background: Two weeks ago, the joint UN and Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan met in private with the UN Security Council to outline a six point plan for the crisis in Syria. After a few days of deliberation, the Security Council unanimously endorsed Annan’s plan.  This is basically it (via CNN):

– “An inclusive Syrian-led political process to address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syria people.”

– A commitment “to stop the fighting and achieve urgently an effective United Nations supervised cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties to protect civilians and stabilize the country.”

– Ensuring the “timely provision of humanitarian assistance to all areas affected by the fighting …”

– Intensifying “the pace and scale of release of arbitrarily detained persons,” including people who have been “involved in peaceful political activities.”

– Ensuring “freedom of movement throughout the country for journalists and a nondiscriminatory visa policy for them.”

– Respecting “freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully as legally guaranteed.”

This plan was blessed on paper by the Security Council early last week. So why only now is Syria saying its on board?

My sense is that it has to do with the personal diplomatic intervention of Kofi Annan in the two places that matter most to Syria right now: Moscow and Beijing. These two capitals hold sway over Damascus. For Annan’s plan to work, China and Russia need to pressure Syria to implement the plan. If these two countries do not back Annan, Syria can simply keep on doing what it has been doing for the past year without much fear of consequence.  These two countries could simply veto any punitive measure (like sanctions or an ICC referral) targeted against Syria.

For the past year they have been the Assad regime’s protector in the Security Council.  Annan needs their backing for this plan to work — and given the announcement from Damascus today, it seems he is getting that support.

Annan was in Moscow yesterday and Beijing today to shore up these countries’ backing for his plan.

The fact that Syria announced its support of the Six Point Plan while Kofi Annan was in Russia and China suggests that Annan’s diplomatic overtures to those countries succeeded.  They seem to have given assurances that they will support the implementation of the plan, which means that Syria needs to get on board.

So, credit to Kofi Annan for using his considerable diplomatic skills to initiate what may be the beginning of the end of Syria’s long nightmare.