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
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1842 GMT (0242 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 0035 GMT (0835 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2152 GMT (0552 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2121 GMT (0521 HKT)
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
ADVERTISEMENT