x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Time to move on to Plan B, Annan tells UN

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, urges consensus on unseating Syria President Bashar Al Assad.

UNITED NATIONS // Acknowledging that his Syria peace plan was not working, special envoy Kofi Annan yesterday called for the world to "speak with one voice," but he did not lay out details of his new initiative, which would include Russia and Iran in diplomatic efforts to end the bloodshed.

"The time has come to determine what more can be done to secure implementation of the plan - and/or what other options exist to address the crisis," said the UN and Arab League envoy in an address to the General Assembly. "If we speak with one voice, it is still possible to avert the worst."

For "the sake of the Syrian people who are living through this nightmare," Mr Annan implored that the world "come together and act as one". He said: "Individual actions or interventions will not resolve the crisis."

Mr Annan, who has failed so far to get his peace plan accepted by Damascus and its armed opposition, warned of "all-out" civil war if a diplomatic solution is not found soon. "The longer we wait, the more radicalised and polarised the situation will become, and the harder it will be to forge a political settlement."

But Mr Annan did not refer specifically to what officials have confirmed is a new plan to bring together all countries with a stake in Syria. This would bring western and Arab nations on one side, and Russia, China and Iran on the other to engineer a transition that removes President Bashar Al Assad from power.

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, has already rejected Tehran sitting at the negotiating table. She told reporters on Wednesday that it is "a little hard to imagine inviting a country that is stage-managing the Assad regime's assault on its people." The Syrian government has accused Gulf Arab nations of playing a similar role with the opposition.

Mr Annan was scheduled to brief the Security Council behind closed doors yesterday about the new initiative.

The massacre of about 80 villagers in Qubeir on Wednesday was "simply unconscionable", Mrs Clinton told reporters in Istanbul yesterday. She said a meeting of officials of 17 western and Arab countries in Istanbul on Wednesday agreed on a package of demands that included the full implementation of the peace plan by Mr Annan and an end to Mr Assad's rule.

"Assad must transfer power and depart Syria," Mrs Clinton said.

She pointed to the resignation of Yemen's former president Ali Abdullah Saleh as an example for such a model. "The time has come for the international community to unite around a new plan for a post-Assad Syria."

In reference to Russia's reluctance to press Mr Al Assad to step down, Mrs Clinton said the United States was ready to work with any country, as long as there was a consensus that Mr Al Assad leave power.

Washington has been soliciting Moscow's support for a so-called Yemen solution in Syria, in which Mr Al Assad would be replaced by a deputy until free elections could be held. But in Moscow yesterday Mikhail Bogdanov, the deputy foreign minister, said "it is not a question for us" and the matter had to be resolved by the Syrian people.

"Application of the so-called Yemen scenario to resolve the conflict in Syria is possible only if the Syrians themselves agree to it," Mr. Bogdanov was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.

Citing the latest massacre, Mr Annan warned that the country was becoming "more polarised and more radicalised" and that neighbouring nations are "increasingly worried about the threat of spillover."

While Mr. Annan criticised the armed opposition for intensifying their attacks, he laid the primary blame squarely on the government.

In a veiled warning to Damascus, Mr Annan said, "It must be made clear that there will be consequences if compliance [with his plan and international law] is not forthcoming." Western nations have weighed calling for Syrian leaders to be investigated by the International Criminal Court, a move blocked by Russia at the Security Council.

"These killings are indicative of a pattern of widespread or systematic attacks against civilian populations, and may amount to crimes against humanity and other international crimes," Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights told the Assembly yesterday.

Mr Annan said he told Mr Al Assad nine days ago to "radically change his military posture" and implement the peace plan.

"Since then, shelling of cities has intensified," he said. "Government-backed militia seem to have free rein with appalling consequences."

Some political detainees have been released and agreement reached on delivering humanitarian aid, he said. "But the hour demands much more," he said.

"If things do not change, the future is likely to be one of brutal repression, massacres, sectarian violence, and even all-out civil war," Mr. Annan warned. "All Syrians will lose."

In his remarks to the Assembly, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Mr Al Assad and his government "have lost all legitimacy."

Employing much stronger language than Mr Annan, the UN chief described how "men, women, even children were executed at point-blank range; some had their throats slit or skulls crushed."


* With additional reporting by Thomas Seibert in Istanbul