Multilateral talks on Special Envoy Kofi Annan's Syrian mediation plan should seek to secure a ceasefire but not determine in advance the shape of a possible national unity government, Russia said today.
“The meeting in Geneva was intended to support Kofi Annan's plan and it must set the conditions for the end of violence and the start of an all-Syrian national dialogue, and not predetermine the contents of this dialogue,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a briefing.
Lavrov is expected to discuss Annan’s proposal with the other four permanent UN Security Council members and key regional players in Geneva on Saturday.
Speaking in Moscow, Lavrov said the Annan plan was not, however, a final document and he expressed dismay that it had been leaked to the media ahead of the Geneva talks.
Earlier in the day, Bloomberg quoted three UN diplomats as saying Russia has endorsed Annan’s detailed roadmap for a political transition in Syria, a sign that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has lost the support of a key ally.
Persuading Assad to step aside and forming a transitional government to pave the way for elections will be at the core of the Geneva meeting, the officials said. All three asked not to be identified by Bloomberg because the talks are private.
Annan earlier this week gave the parties to the talks a few days to respond to a set of recommendations entitled “On Guidelines and Principles of a Syrian-led transition.” By late on June 26, the Russians had accepted the paper in full, including language that spells out Assad’s departure, according to the three officials, who all were informed of the decision.
The Annan document, which was reviewed by Bloomberg News, says a transitional government may include members of Assad’s government and opposition and other groups, although not “those whose continued presence and participation would undermine the credibility of the transition and jeopardize stability and reconciliation.”
Speaking in Helsinki on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she had been in regular contact with Annan over his transition plan.
She did not make public details of his proposal, but noted: “I’ve been in close consultation with special envoy Kofi Annan about the prospects for a meeting that would focus on a roadmap for political transition in Syria.”
Annan “has developed his own very concrete roadmap for political transition, he has been circulating it for comments and when I spoke to him yesterday I conveyed our support for the plan that he has put forward,” said Clinton.
“We think it embodies the principles needed for any political transition in Syria that could lead to a peaceful, democratic and representative outcome reflecting the will of the Syrian people,” she added.
Yemen or Kosovo
Editorially, Lebanese political analyst Abdelwahhab Badrakhan, writing for the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat, says Annan’s roadmap for political transition in Syria leaves Damascus choosing between “the Yemen scenario and the Kosovo option.”
The Yemen scenario would nudge Assad out of office as happened to Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh.
The Kosovo option would see the Syrian regime forcibly evicted by joint internal and international military action. Where the regime is concerned, it’s a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea.
To explain the current state of play, Badrakhan starts with a metaphor, writing:
After lip-reading the televised remarks of US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, and observing their body language at the recent G20 summit, a Damascus denizen figured:
The American asks the Russian: How much for your share in the partnership (with the Syrian regime)?
The Russian: A million dollars.
The American: Too much.
The Russian: I’ve been building the partnership for 50 years. I invested a lot in it.
The American: I’ll give you $100,000 for your share and keep you as company chairman.
The Russian: Too little… I might not want to sell after all.
The American: Reconsider and better take the offer. In two months you could be pushed out and left with nothing.
In essence, Badrakhan continues, the elements of caricature in this hypothetical dialogue also sums up the regime’s current circumstances. “The regime was urged to end its crackdown, to lead the political reform and to stop the killings. The Arab League intervened to help it cease the violence and open a dialogue with the opposition. When none of this worked, a joint UN-Arab intercession followed. But the regime kept piling its failures and moving from stupidity to arrogance, from murders to massacres, and from shabiha to scorched earth and ethnic cleansing policies – all the time thinking it would get away with its war crimes.
“Having dissipated all chances of an internal political solution, a peaceful transition and a safe way out, the regime left the international community no alternative but to oversee its exit.”
Badrakhan believes the regime is unfit and can’t be trusted to play a role in Syria’s future.
“Endorsement of Annan’s roadmap for political transition in Syria at Saturday’s Geneva meeting would mark the start of an international entente on a political solution for Syria on terms the regime invariably sought to evade and sidestep.
“Even Russia and Iran realize the regime must pay the price for getting a solution going. Whereas the regime could have sacrificed a few heads at the onset of the crisis, it is now bound to part with its own.”
Despite its apprehensions, the opposition too would have to accommodate the international entente and accept the roadmap once adopted. That would be the only way to put all the pieces of the jigsaw together since “the regime is unable to prevail despite its arsenal and the uprising is incapable of bringing down the regime although it crippled it.”
In any case, says Badrakhan, all this is hypothetical. “The proposed roadmap could bear fruit quickly, or it could drag on due to regime intransigence or Russian-Chinese-Iranian considerations and ambitions. But the solution’s cornerstone is to see the last of the head of the regime and its bunch of murderers.
“The roadmap’s flaw is that it would seek to build an alternative regime from disparate components. Its forte is a burgeoning American-Russian understanding. What is certain is that its success or failure would determine the nature of international intervention needed in either case: the Yemen template if it succeeded or the Kosovo scenario if it failed.”