Kofi Annan’s Mission Impossible in Syria

International support for his peace plan is just as important for Kofi Annan as the plan itself.

It is hard enough being an international diplomat, especially when your job was specifically created to pacify one of the most deadly internal conflicts in the world today.

Kofi Annan, the former secretary general of the United Nations, was tapped by the Security Council to do exactly that — shuttle between the Syrian government and the fractious armed opposition to implement some sort of a peace before thousands more civilians are killed in the line of fire.

Sensing the gravity of the situation, Annan wasted no time to hash out his own peace accord which has garnered the absolute support of the Security Council in a rare show of unanimity on the issue.

Despite Annan’s efforts, the longtime diplomat is beginning to experience just how difficult and hopeless his mission may be. While President Bashar al-Assad and his adversaries have all agreed to the accord’s points, hardly a day goes by when government officials, commentators and United Nations personnel express their extreme reservations about whether the agreement will actually do any good.

Annan’s plan has been buoyed by the support of all five permanent members of the Security Council, in addition to the largest opposition group, the Syrian National Council. But with Syrian army units continuing to arrest protesters and hitting entire cities with mortar attacks, other nations are just about at the end of their rope in terms of supporting a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

This impatience is doubly so for the Sunni kingdoms in the Persian Gulf, a group of countries which view the downfall of Assad as a strategic opportunity just as much as a moral obligation. What is bad for Iran, so goes the logic, is good for Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Annan is thus confronted with three problems simultaneously. Not only is he trying to broker a tentative ceasefire and a Syrian led political rapprochement process that may be dead upon arrival; he is attempting to do this fast enough for the Saudis and the Qataris to hold off on sending weapons to the rebels, yet slow enough to retain the support of Syria’s main backers on the Security Council, China and Russia.

A resolution of the conflict and a complete cessation of the violence will depend on the Syrians themselves. But for that process to begin (if it ever does), Annan will be forced to reassure a broad coalition of countries that, however different their interests in the conflict may be, Syrians will need time to negotiate an acceptable solution.