Annan's Mission Alive as Long as People Alive in Syria! |
Al Hayat - 03 July, 2012
Author: George Semaan
One of the most important conclusions of the action group for Syria that held its meeting in Geneva is probably the sustainment of the mission of UN-Arab envoy Kofi Annan alive, as long as there are living people in Syria! And because what is required is to avoid the announcement of the failure of this mission, fleeing forward became a must a second and third time, just like the consensus over a loose formula for the agreement, one that is vague at the level of its content and clear at the level of its spirit. Indeed, such an agreement would allow all the participants – except for the Syrians of course – to interpret it and dot the i’s in a way going in line with their inclinations, proclaimed positions and relations with the sides involved in the conflict.
Kofi Annan’s mission is no longer linked to a timetable and his term will not expire mid-July. The new plan thus granted him an entire year, and maybe even more, to implement the roadmap and the transitional phase. As to American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, she read the formula the way it was read by her British and French counterparts, heralding that President Bashar al-Assad’s days had become numbered. However, she did not explain the reasons behind her retreat, after she had asked that the agreement feature Al-Assad’s exclusion from this stage and the promised government. On the other hand, her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov was able to drag everyone toward the stand adopted by his country, one which could claim to have benefitted the most from the Geneva agreement that avoided any mention of the Syrian president’s exclusion, established parity between the conflicting sides by calling on everyone to stop the violence and the militarization of the action, and did not even hint to the Security Council’s possible use of Chapter VII to impose implementation.
This intentional vagueness in the drafting of the agreement constituted an honorable exit for all the parties. Moreover, it will particularly grant Russia and the United States more time. But what is important is for the political option to remain the only one at this stage, and this is the actual understanding between Washington and Moscow. Indeed, President Barack Obama’s administration does not want anything to ruin the presidential elections in a few months. Nor does it want any further complications in Afghanistan, following the tensions which affected the relations with Pakistan in parallel to the imminent withdrawal from Kabul. This is especially true in light of the economic crisis it is enduring – along with its European partners – and that prevents any military ventures. Kremlin on the other hand is wagering – in the absence of alternatives – on a possible solution that might allow Russia to maintain its military and economic interests in Syria, and move forward in restoring its missing role in the management of international affairs. This is why Moscow was not exaggerating when it considered that the international order took shape starting from Syria, or at least the regional one, along with its close ties to the conflict between the big players in the Great Middle East.
President Vladimir Putin is aware of the fact that the end of Annan’s mission in Syria would mean the fall of a major card from the rules of the Russian game in this country, without this meaning that his opponents in Washington are ready to hold all the cards and control the rules of engagement. So far, Moscow has undermined the first and second Arab initiatives and thwarted the action of the Security Council. Hence, all it has left is to uphold the mission of the UN-Arab envoy to cover its policy at the level of the Syrian crisis, especially since its partners and rivals at the Security Council assigned it to seek a settlement and come up with a deal taking its historical interests into account, while meeting the aspirations of the Syrian opposition.
There is no doubt that Kofi Annan skillfully played his role, knowing he had to combine opposites. In the meantime, the region is not ready for a new regional order since neither the repercussions of the Arab spring have appeased, nor has the conflict over the Iranian nuclear crisis reached an understanding or the beginning of a solution. This is due to the fact that the three meetings held between Tehran and the P5+1 states in Istanbul, Baghdad and Moscow, failed to achieve a breakthrough. But the former United Nations secretary general was able to lead Moscow toward his plan and the launching of a transitional phase ending – in the West’s opinion – with the ousting of President Al-Assad and his entourage from power. He thus knew how to proceed in line with the Russian stand to the highest levels, and how to present his mission as being the last opportunity after the observers halted their activities and after he threatened to step down if his plan is not met with the required cooperation. This turned the mission into the last card providing a cover for Moscow’s role at the level of the crisis.
But on the other hand, Moscow is facing numerous predicaments in its attempt to regain its lost role on the international arena, equal to the obstacles confronting the spread, challenges and cost of the American role. Putin also realizes that his full control over the Syrian card is obstructed by Iran. This may be the reason behind his constant insistence on Iran’s inclusion in the solution and his rejection of any mentioning of President Al-Assad’s ousting to avoid provoking it, or maybe due to the absence of any guarantees for the ability to convince the latter and his entourage to step down. This is what hindered his full engagement with the West behind Kofi Annan’s mission.
Russia gained control over the Syrian card and became the main headline for the negotiations over it. However, Russia knows that the Islamic Republic has different calculations in Damascus, including the conflicting calculations between the two countries over the nuclear file. Indeed, despite the understanding between Moscow and Tehran on the ways to handle that file, this understanding remains temporary and does not rise up to the level of full emulation. At this level, the Iranian officials addressed the most critical statements toward the Russian command in the last few years, against the backdrop of its position toward the international sanctions ratified by the Security Council, and its stalling vis-à-vis the implementation of its armament contracts and the construction of facilities related to the nuclear program. Some even attribute Washington’s neutral position to its wish to keep the Syrian card in Russia’s hand.
However, Moscow’s acceptance to sit with its opponents to discuss the transitional phase in Syria means it has moved one step forward along the long road drawn up by Kofi Annan. And no matter how much it were to stress its insistence on President Al-Assad’s regime, it knows that eventually, the situation will not stabilize unless he were to leave power. But before advancing in that direction, it firstly wants to guarantee an implicit Iranian approval, seeing how Iran is holding on to Al-Assad in light of the faltering of its guarantee in the Baghdad government and the return of its “missile guarantee” in Lebanon to more than one discussion and pressures table. This is not to mention its economic problems, which are bound to escalate with the launching of the implementation of new sanctions, at the head of which is the banning of the importation of Iranian oil. There is also the transferring of the Gulf oil pipes away from the Hormuz Strait and toward the Arabian Sea in the South and the Red Sea in the West, i.e. away from the grip of the daily threats.
Furthermore, and before approving the launching of the action to depose Al-Assad’s regime, Moscow wants to guarantee the sustainment of this regime’s structure, albeit with different faces. Indeed, it does not want Syria to face the same fate as Egypt, as it never saw the Arab spring as being an action undertaken by populations rebelling against their rulers and their administrations. Consequently, it always accused the West, and especially the United States, of mobilizing the Arab street. This is while it perceived the arrival to power of the Islamic movements from North Africa to the Middle East as being a step in a project which will end with the emergence of an Islamic Sunni mat constituting a decisive factor in determining the aspect of the new regional order. In its opinion, this will generate repercussions that will activate dreams and aspirations in the Muslim ranks in Russia and the surrounding Central Asian states.
This is why Moscow did not spare a pretext to support its stringency at the level of the Syrian file. In the meantime, it has been (and still is) suspicious toward the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood group, which in turn did not conceal its utter rejection of any formula or understanding over a deal dividing power between it and the other opposition factions and the symbols of Al-Assad’s regime – after all the blood that was shed, the destruction, displacement and cleansing. On the eve of the Geneva meeting, Russia might have decided not to relinquish its insistence on the Syrian president before carefully monitoring the outcome of the meeting of the opposition parties today and tomorrow in Cairo. Indeed, the latter should come out with two clear papers, the first tackling their vision for the future of Syria, and the second the elements of the solution on which they will agree. Moreover, they will discuss the formation of a committee representing them in any dialogue imposed by the developments. But beyond that, Putin is aware of the fact that the management of the crisis in Syria neither resides in his hand, nor in that of his opponents, rather in the hands of the parties fighting on the domestic arena. Only they can determine the outcome of the events, and the future of the country and the region.
The wasting of time or the policy of constructive vagueness forced the major players to reach an agreement in Geneva. However, the positions of the Syrian parties cannot tolerate further destructive clarity, since Al-Assad cannot be easily ousted and his opponents cannot sit with the symbols of his regime. The revolution aimed at deposing him. So, how can they risk his strengthening and the reproduction of his regime? It might be too late for a solution the Egyptian or Yemeni style, seeing how the conflict in these two countries did not take an exclusionist turn to tarnish their spring with the same blemishes as the Syrian one. Now the question is: Will Syria require all the agreements and understandings consumed by Lebanon in its wars, or are the Russians and their opponents wagering on the depletion of the regional parties and actors to facilitate their slide toward a temporary settlement, until the time comes for the major understandings inside and outside the region?