The U.N. Security Council has unanimously backed Kofi Annan's plan to halt violence and start a political process that could end the crisis in Syria, without calling for President Bashar al-Assad to step down.
With no implied references to regime change, Mr. Annan, special envoy of U.N. and the Arab League, called upon the government to lead the political transition in Syria, which has been ravaged by violence since the anti-regime uprising began a year ago. The presidential statement, which is a non-bonding document, said the U.N. envoy's plan would “facilitate a Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, plural political system, in which citizens are equal regardless of their affiliations or ethnicities or beliefs, including through commencing a comprehensive political dialogue between the Syrian government and the whole spectrum of the Syrian opposition”.
Russia and China saw in the unified stand taken by the Council, a vindication of the core aspect of their position. Citing respect for the principle of national sovereignty and rejection of attempts to enforce “regime change”, both countries had vetoed earlier U.N. resolutions that implied that Mr. Assad should step down first.
With all Council members now supporting Mr. Annan's position, both Moscow and Beijing sounded triumphant. “We are very pleased,” Russia's outspoken ambassador to the U.N Vitaly Churkin told the media. “The Security Council has finally chosen to take a pragmatic look at the situation in Syria.”
An article in China's Xinhua news agency saw more than one reason to applaud the UNSC's statement. “Unlike the two blocked draft resolutions, the new presidential statement does not contain any words implying the forced regime change in Syria, the one-sided pressure on the Syrian government, and sanctions or the threat of sanctions on Damascus.”
Earlier, the Arab League, with Saudi Arabia and Qatar in the lead, had insisted on Mr. Assad's exit as a prelude to the formation of national unity government headed by the country's Vice-President. Both Riyadh and Doha also showed considerable enthusiasm to arm the Syrian opposition — a position that even the West found unacceptable, given the fractious nature of Mr. Assad's foes.
A separate press statement was also unambiguous in describing the recent attacks on Syrian government buildings in Damascus and Aleppo as acts of terrorism. Analysts say the U.N.'s position was an implicit rejection of the charge levelled by opposition activists that the explosions in Syria's two most important cities were self-inflicted by the regime to garner international political support.
In setting out a road map for defusing tensions, the presidential statement was categorical in calling for a ceasefire and the lifting of roadblocks that impeded flow of humanitarian supplies to the conflict-ridden areas. The document expressed its “gravest concern at the deteriorating situation in Syria, which has resulted in a serious human rights crisis and a deplorable humanitarian situation”. The state-run Syrian news agency observed, with veiled satisfaction, that the Security Council's position did not pronounce ultimatums, threats or “unilateral demands”.