The United Nations and Arab League’s envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, ended a brief visit to Damascus on Monday where he again engaged the Syrian leadership in the hope of advancing his peace plan bogged down on account of sharp divisions among the big powers.
Mr. Annan’s remarks, after his meeting on Monday the embattled Syrian President Bashar al Assad, were hardly revealing. “We discussed the need to end the violence and ways and means of doing so. We agreed on an approach which I will share with the armed opposition,” Mr. Annan told reporters after the meeting.
He described his talks with Mr. Assad as “constructive and candid”.
From Syria, Mr. Annan flew to Tehran for talks with the Iranians — a move that brought into sharp focus the external roots of the Syrian crisis. Iran, Russia and China — along with the Lebanese Hizbollah — have been supporting the Syrian regime.
In a rare moment of exasperation, Mr. Annan let his silken demeanour slip and questioned why the West was so obsessed with Russia, but surprisingly unenthusiastic about Iran, for finding a solution to the Syrian crisis.
“What strikes me is that so many comments are made about Russia, while Iran is least mentioned… The unique focus only on Russia is very irritating to the Russians, he said during the course of an interview with the French daily Le Monde.
Mr. Annan has insisted that Iran “cannot be ignored” if bloodshed in Syria has to stop — a position that has been actively opposed by the West, which went out of its way to prevent Tehran from participation in recent talks in Geneva.
The Geneva meeting forcefully recommended the formation of a national unity government to anchor political transition. However, Mr. Assad rejected this move, saying the proposal had been ill-founded and only partially thought through.
“We may have tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands or millions — could they participate [in the unity government]? This kind of government, the democracy, needs criteria and needs mechanism,” said Mr. Assad during the course of an interview with the German broadcaster ARD.
Mr. Assad made it clear that dialogue with the armed opposition groups was not possible as they stood opposed to any dialogue. However, talks — accompanied with political reforms — were possible with “different political components”.
Mr. Assad praised Mr. Annan for admirably performing a “difficult” job, but blamed foreign governments for undermining his efforts.
“The main obstacle is that many countries don’t want [it] to succeed. So they offer political support and they still send armaments and send money to terrorists in Syria. They want it [Mr. Annan’s plans] to fail.”
Mr. Annan too has criticised overseas governments for prolonging the Syrian crisis — nowhere close to a resolution, despite the lapse of 16 months since the anti-regime protests in Syria began.
In an interview with Guardian, Mr. Annan blamed the “destructive competition” among Russia, the West and the Arab States for bringing Syria face-to-face with a spreading civil war.