Skip to main content

The only glimmer of hope for Syria

By George A. Lopez, Special to CNN
June 8, 2012 -- Updated 1559 GMT (2359 HKT)
Kofi Annan addresses the U.N. General Assembly on the situation in the Syria on June 7 in New York.
Kofi Annan addresses the U.N. General Assembly on the situation in the Syria on June 7 in New York.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • George Lopez: Kofi Annan report to U.N. on Syria violence was sobering
  • Lopez says there is hope for movement by big powers on a way to attain a cease-fire
  • He says a regional conference that included all key players could lead to progress
  • Lopez: History shows that peace is often initiated by those with blood on their hands

Editor's note: George A. Lopez is the Hesburgh Professor of Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame's Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. He served on the U.N. panel of experts for Security Council sanctions on North Korea from October 2010 through July 2011.

(CNN) -- In a report Thursday to the U.N. General Assembly, former secretary-general and Syrian peace envoy Kofi Annan was frank and determined: Neither the opposition nor the Syrian government are implementing the cease-fire.

Annan was particularly condemning of the role of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government in the increased number and barbarity of attacks against the Syrian people, using the term "massacre" multiple times. He stated, "Clearly, all parties must cease violence. But equally clearly, the first responsibility lies with the government."

Photos: In Syria, families flee and rebels fight

Before briefing the Security Council, where disagreements among the five permanent members (known as the P5) have stifled the imposition of sanctions against the al-Assad regime, Annan asserted, "We must find the will and the common ground to act — and act as one."

George Lopez
George Lopez

Unconfirmed reports are that Annan asked the council in closed session to give his plan an injection of unity and action by creating an international group to advance ideas and discussions for peaceful dialogue and political transition.

U.N. official accuses Syria of crimes against humanity

As bleak as the Annan report and Syrian situation are, big power-driven happenings of this past week outside the Security Council may mesh well with Annan's request and provide a window of opportunity for progress even in the face of growing violence and disagreements among major nations.

Syria: Torture of worst kind
McCain makes a desperate plea for Syria
Netto: Still hopeful for peace in Syria
Clinton not sold on military action, yet

In Washington, nearly 60 countries attended the U.S. Treasury Department-hosted meeting of the "Friends of the Syrian People,'" co-chaired by Qatar, Turkey and the United States. That group issued a strong statement reaffirming its support for the Annan plan, condemning the brutal repression by the regime and reissuing its call for Security Council sanctions on the al-Assad regime.

China condemns Syria violence

Not to be outdone, the Russians and the Chinese, meeting in Beijing, issued a proposal for a regional peace conference that would include all the major players in Syria's neighborhood, most especially Iran and Turkey. In the words of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the conference was an opportunity "for all external players to agree, honestly and without double standards, to fulfill Kofi Annan's plan."

While the competition of these priorities and plans for solving the Syrian crisis harks back to the Cold War, ironically these P5 antagonists may have provided the outline of a framework and some structural stability that the Annan plan has been lacking to date.

In Syria, a massacre feels eerily familiar

In these new proclamations, Russia and the United States may be stumbling to a way forward, especially when each power recognizes that they are only small concessions away from agreement, and that history supports the Annan view.

While regional peace conferences are always risky enterprises, it's difficult to imagine bringing a cease-fire to the Syrian situation without all parties that border that state or who have armed and financed any faction in the dispute being at the conference table. If the conference produces an agreement, the parties will need to monitor and constrain arms flows and the influx of foreign fighters. On this, the Russians will need to compromise and cooperate.

The initial reaction of the United States, as reflected in statements from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was not enthusiastic about an inclusive peace conference. Clinton noted that Iran, in particular, did not deserve a place at the table because it was such a singular supporter of the al-Assad killing regime.

Syria's Christian conundrum

However, experience indicates that unless all the key killers and their enablers sit around the same table, it will be very difficult to forge a sustainable peace agreement.

The harsh reality of the Syrian situation, as with the former Yugoslavia and other bloody civil wars before it, indicates that peace is made at the outset by murderers and scoundrels. But if reinforced by larger powers like those that would be at the table, an intersection of interests of Syrian parties and neighbors might produce a workable deal, however bloody the hands of the signers would be. On this, the United States will need to compromise and cooperate.

Surely, serious obstacles remain to having the Annan plan take hold on the ground. The opposition has now demonstrated sufficient firepower that if Syrian tanks, armored personnel carriers and troops withdraw back to the barracks, various cities and villages will come under full opposition control. Al-Assad fears this and will not yield to it easily, if at all.

That the Syrian people continue to pour out into the streets each Friday afternoon in the face of guaranteed government attacks shows the mobilization of large numbers may not be easily curtailed when a period of calm is declared. This will require leadership not yet seen from the opposition.

Also, the place of the al-Assad government within any peace conference, much less in the future of the country, is an obstacle that separates the large powers considerably. Yet none of these problems prohibit more consensus now by the P5 on some new and basic steps to end the violence.

An astute use of this week's events and Annan's call to unified action could lead to a Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire and peace conference within 30 days. This would provide a new platform upon which the Annan plan can stand and move forward. It certainly warrants the creative attention of the big powers, the states in the region and the combatants on the ground in Syria.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of George Lopez.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Robert Hickey says most new housing development is high-end, catering to high-earners.
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Alexander Motyl says as Russian President Putin snarled at Ukraine, his foreign minister was signing a conciliatory accord with the West. Whatever the game, the accord is a major stand down by Russia
April 23, 2014 -- Updated 1229 GMT (2029 HKT)
Les Abend says at every turn, the stowaway teen defied the odds of discovery and survival. What pilot would have thought to look for a person in the wheel well?
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Q & A with artist Rachel Sussman on her new book of photographs, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Martin Blaser says the overuse of antibiotics threatens to deplete our bodies of "good" microbes, leaving us vulnerable to an unstoppable plague--an "antibiotic winter"
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1737 GMT (0137 HKT)
John Sutter asks: Is it possible to eat meat in modern-day America and consider yourself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite?
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Sally Kohn notes that Meb Keflezighi rightly was called an American after he won the Boston Marathon, but his status in the U.S. once was questioned
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1256 GMT (2056 HKT)
Denis Hayes and Scott Denman say on this Earth Day, the dawn of the Solar Age is already upon us and the Atomic Age of nuclear power is in decline
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 2036 GMT (0436 HKT)
Retired Coast Guard officer James Loy says a ship captain bears huge responsibility.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1708 GMT (0108 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the latest strikes are part of an aggressive U.S. effort to target militants, including a bomb maker
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Cynthia Lummis and Peter Welch say 16 agencies carry out national intelligence, and their budgets are top secret. We need to know how they are spending our money.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama knows more than anyone that he has much at stake in the midterm elections.
April 22, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Eric Sanderson says if you really want to strike a blow for the environment--and your health--this Earth Day, work to get cars out of cities and create transportation alternatives
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Bruce Barcott looks at the dramatic differences in marijuana laws in Colorado and Louisiana
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery supports the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1752 GMT (0152 HKT)
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
April 21, 2014 -- Updated 1825 GMT (0225 HKT)
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1250 GMT (2050 HKT)
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
ADVERTISEMENT