International Community Agrees to New Approach in Search for Transition in Syria

This article was published on the Interdependent on 5th July, 2012 

The international community took a new stab at solving the Syrian crisis on Saturday by agreeing to guidelines for the political transition mentioned in Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan’s Six Point Plan. The outcome elicited a host of reactions from those it is supposed to guide, as well as UN actors. Few seem confident that talking will end the bloodshed. The agreement, agreed to by the five permanent members of the Security Council, the Arab League, the European Union and regional actors Turkey, Qatar, Kuwait and Iraq, focuses on achieving political transition by establishing a transitional governing body with full executive powers.

In a press conference after the meeting, Annan said that the time was coming for both sides to appoint representatives to discuss the transition. “We [President Assad and I] had agreed in one of our meetings that when the time comes for me to ask him to designate an empowered interlocutor for us to continue the process, he was prepared to do so. And that is one of the first things, when the process starts, that he will be expected to do and the opposition will also be expected to name their interlocutors to start the ball rolling.”

Willing to talk?

However, whether any side will actually appoint such interlocutors remains unclear. Syrian state newspapers rejected the plan; the al-Baath newspaper said it ignored that the Syrian government is “achieving realistic and concrete steps” toward change. The Syrian ambassador to Russia re-affirmed Syria’s commitment to the Annan plan on Monday, according to the Syrian News Agency Sana. However, on Tuesday, Bashar al Assad issued three new laws on combating terrorism, all of which justified severe crackdowns on anybody involved in “terrorist acts,” the words the Syrian regime has consistently used to refer to the unrest in the country.Even if Assad does honor his agreement to appoint an interlocutor, it is likely to be somebody from Assad’s inner circle, says Hilal Khashan, professor of political science at the American University in Beirut. “In order to give the resemblance of a smooth transition, I think Assad might appoint Farouk al Sharia [the vice-president] as his caretaker,” he speculates.

As for the opposition, most factions have also rejected the plan, focusing mostly on the inability to enter into transformation talks while the regime continues to kill.

The Local Coordination Committees (LCC), a powerful opposition group within Syria, accused the agreement of being written in “vague language which is open to interpretation.” Echoing a statement by U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, the LCC said that members of the security services and military with “blood on their hands” should be excluded from the transitional phase.

The explicit exclusion of President Bashar al-Assad from the transition process, backed by the United States, was dropped, partially due to Russian opposition.

Various opposition members and groups said it is impossible to talk to the regime while the bloodshed continued. “They are killing every day more and more, no way we can speak with them” said Omar Shakir, a Syrian activist in Lebanon told The InterDependent.

The Arab League and the Syrian National Council (SNC) also expressed concern about the lack of a timetable for the plan. “The declaration of Geneva seemed to lack a clear mechanism of action and timetable for implementation,” a statement issued by the SNC on Sunday said.

However, the other main faction of Syria’s opposition, the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria, accepted the plan for political transition as the country’s best shot at avoiding total collapse. The party has long supported the option of dialogue with the regime to end the bloodshed.

Various opposition parties met on Monday and Tuesdayin Cairo with the aim of bridging their division on issues such as whether to talk to the Assad regime. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he hoped the meeting would help move the new plan toward political transition. “It is important that the Syrian opposition increase its cohesion and designate effective representative interlocutors,” a statement released by his spokesperson said.

However, the opposition is notoriously divided and has failed to form a cohesive front for months. “The domestic opposition is not with the SNC and the Free Syrian Army—the ones who are fighting—expressed dissatisfaction with the Geneva Declaration and they are unhappy about the Cairo meeting today. I don’t think the opposition will ever succeed in choosing a replacement for Assad,” Khashan said.  The outcome of the meeting failed to provide much cohesion on the most heated issues.

Little effect on other UN actors

Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, reiterated her callfor the conflict to be brought to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity. “In my view, both government forces and armed opponents have been involved in actions harming civilians,” she told reporters Monday.

UNHCR, the agency dealing with the large number of refugees caused by the crisis, told The InterDependent it would not revise its numbers in the light of Saturday’s political developments. The number of refugees has doubled since March, despite the Annan-brokered ceasefire and the arrival of UN monitors in April. The monitors’ mission was suspended two weeks ago due to security concerns. General Mood, the leader of the mission, called for the mission to be ‘reconfigured’ on the 5th of July, in light of the “unprecendented” levels of violence reached since the mission suspended its operations.

The increase in violence ensures the refugee stream is bound to swell. UNHCR appealed for $193 million funds last Thursday to care for the thousands of refugees scattered across Iraq, Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. The Syria Regional Response Plan, a six-month contingency plan, predicts the number of refugees, currently at 97,000, will almost double to 185,000 by the end of the year. “We are anticipating that things are going to continue; due to the situation of instability citizens are having to leave the country,” said UNHCR spokesperson Sybella Wilkes.

The obvious solution, general Mood told the BBC, is for both sides to “take their fingers off the triggers and bring this forward in a peaceful way”. Few seem optimistic that this will happen.

una_interdependent2
Kofi Annan (left), Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States on Syria, meets with Major General Robert Mood, Head of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), before their joint press briefing in Geneva, Switzerland.

One thought on “International Community Agrees to New Approach in Search for Transition in Syria

  1. Pingback: Führer der westlichen Wertegemeinschaft in Bezug auf syrische Front ratlos « Mein Parteibuch Zweitblog

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