GENEVA – Kofi Annan's time as a would-be peacemaker among Syria's warring parties is over, and he quietly exited the role Friday having failed to end the conflict in the Arab state. Now the task falls to another veteran U.N. diplomat, Lakhdar Brahimi.
Unlike Annan, who for the past six months has been based in Geneva, his home, Brahimi will make his base in New York. There, he hopes he can better influence the U.N. Security Council to unite around a plan to end the violence in Syria.
As the U.N.-Arab League envoy to Syria, Annan — who did not issue a farewell statement — blamed divisions on the 15-nation Security Council for the failure to persuade Syria's government and the opposition to end their 17-month conflict, which began as a popular uprising but morphed into a civil war.
Russia and China used their vetoes on the council to block U.N. sanctions against the Syrian regime, despite entreaties by the U.S. and other Western nations. As the council members bickered, the bodies have piled up in Syria: activists say the fighting has claimed more than 20,000 lives so far.
"It's a mission that could have been made possible had the international community been more united," Annan's spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, told The Associated Press on Friday. "They have expressed support in various statements. But in fact, this support is not translated on the ground. And this means exerting the kind of influence that would make the parties listen."
Annan was named the envoy to the Arab state in February. He came up with a six-point peace plan to resolve Syria's crisis, including a cease-fire that was supposed to take effect in mid-April. But the plan did not take hold.
Fawzi said critics who say the process "gave the regime time and space to go on killing its people are unfair, in that the killing was going on anyway. With or without the mediator, the killing was going on, and the killing was going on for over a year before he was appointed."
With Annan's exit, Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister who has been a U.N. envoy to Afghanistan and Iraq, starts Saturday trying to succeed where Annan couldn't. Brahimi told AP that his first task will be to overcome the divisions in the Security Council that undermined Annan's efforts and get it to speak "with a unified voice." He said military intervention "is not supported by anybody."
On Friday, the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross said in an operational update that since mid-July, fighting in and around Damascus has been escalating almost without interruption. "The situation in many parts of Syria is currently edging towards irreversible deterioration. Assisting the fast-growing number of needy people is a top priority," it said.
Yemen's former U.N. ambassador, Abdullah Alsaidi, said Annan had "good intentions" in taking on a nearly impossible job. But Annan should have spent more time in New York, where the Security Council is based, and he should have talked directly with Syrian opposition leaders, rather than delegating that job to a deputy, Alsaidi said.
"I think what he did was he created a momentum and the imperative for a peaceful resolution of the conflict," Alsaidi, now a senior fellow with the New York-based International Peace Institute, told AP.
"I think he did accentuate the fact that unless there is peaceful resolution of this conflict, Syria will deteriorate into a quagmire that is not different from what happened in Iraq, with spillover into other countries. But he was reluctant to meet with the Syrian opposition ... and I think that was a drawback."