Having secured President Bashar al-Assad’s agreement to a peace plan for Syria, U.N./Arab League envoy Kofi Annan says “implementation will be key” to ending the uprising and enacting political reforms in Damascus.
The six-point plan calls for a U.N.-monitored ceasefire, access for humanitarian aid workers, and an inclusive, Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, multi-party political system.
But the plan makes few direct demands on President Assad, who is enjoying the momentum of mounting military gains against his armed opponents.
U.S. Institute of Peace Middle East analyst Steve Heydemann says it is a modest plan constrained by its foundation on a U.N. resolution stripped of its toughest components so as to win Russian and Chinese approval.
“They talk about very general kinds of commitments to dialogue,” Heydemann says. “They talk about very general commitments to things like pulling forces out of urban areas. But we’ve seen the Assad regime agree to these sorts of things in the past and fail to implement them.”
Though modest, the deal does bridge months of division among permanent members of the U.N. Security Council as Russia and China accused the United States, Britain, and France of unfairly favoring Assad’s opponents.
“Despite the differences that we’ve had – and they continue with regard to Syria – there is the framework for cooperation through the Kofi Annan initiative which, again, at the very least, provides a framework for stopping the violence, initiating greater humanitarian access to the people of Syria and initiating a transition in that country,” says U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes. “Again, we believe very strongly that that transition has to involve Assad leaving power.”
Because the Annan plan does not include a demand that Assad leave power, Heydemann says it is less of a break between Damascus and its Russian and Chinese allies than some have made it out to be.
“This is repeating a tactic that the Assad regime has used in the past,” he says. “They agreed to the Arab League plan after all three or four months ago, which contained precisely the same kinds of principles as the Annan U.N. plan does. And nothing changed. They made a number of promises to the Turkish government about the implementation of reforms, and nothing significant has changed.”
“What we are seeing is a consistent pattern on the part of the Assad regime of agreeing to these international frameworks – in particular because I think they do support the efforts of their protectors, the Russians and the Chinese – but very little changes as a result. And my sense is that we are likely to see a repeat of that in this case,” Heydemann says.
That skepticism is shared by the French ambassador to the U.N. Gérard Araud, who referred to the adage about “the proof of the pudding is in the eating,” and by the German ambassador to the U.N. Peter Wittig, who said this might turn out to be a first step in the right direction “but of course we have to remain cautious. Syria in the past has had a history of credibility gaps.”
Scott Stearns is VOA's State Department correspondent. He has worked as the Dakar Bureau Chief, White House correspondent, and Nairobi Bureau Chief since beginning his career as a freelance reporter in the Liberian civil war. He has written for the BBC, UPI, the Associated Press, The Jerusalem Post, and The Economist. Scott has a Bachelors and Masters in Journalism from Northwestern University.