© Wolf G Kroner 2018 Kofi A. AnnanKofi Annan:
On failing with his Syrian peace mission, or the failure that wasn’t

February 2018. In a side event to the Munich Security Conference United Nations diplomat and Nobel Peace Laureate Kofi Annan 1)  followed an invitation by students of Technische Universität München (TUM) to talk about Visions for challenged democracies. Towards a fairer, more peaceful world  2). At the end students were offered an opportunity to directly ask Mr. Annan. Many submissions were channelled through social media, and the organisers demonstrated distinct instinct, when they chose Mohammad Abdulhadi’s question. He wanted to know why the first Syrian peace mission failed in 2012, who was responsible for aborting the promising six-point plan  3), and, certainly, how Kofi Annan assessed prospects of ending what diplomatic parlance calls “the conflict”.

Muhammad touched the nerve. For many living in Germany as well as in the rest of Europe the Syrian war is© B2Bioworld 2018 Syrian asylum seekers EU28+Extra-EU 2012-2017 (EUROSTAT 2018) “here and now”. Almost daily the public learns about atrocities from the region: children maimed by chemical bombs, Shiites against Sunnites, Christians beheaded by Islamists, refugees – handicapped and old people, half-starved and orphaned humans, peasants, ordinary workers, medical doctors, engineers, university professors fleeing their country or seeking asylum abroad. German citizens in particular are aware how humanitarian relief efforts soured in covert operations of jihadists, in disturbing though isolated crimes of hosted migrants, struggling authorities coping with hundreds of thousands of refugees, unmet poverty at home, and in the rise of far-right political parties unseen since the end of World War II. With coalition negotiations still going on many recalled that xenophobic nationalists nearly won government in the German parliamentary elections five months earlier. Moreover, the consequences of the Syrian war have been contaminating mutual trust among EU Member States, something for which Syrians are not responsible, of course. Hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria added to the surge of migrants from Afghanistan, Africa, Iraq, Middle East, or Turkey heading for Europe. While not all of them fled wars, and everyone had his or her own legitimate reasons, the debate about how to control the EU’s external frontiers put Northern European states against those of the South. Asking to host refugees in the EU   4) or share the burden divided Eastern and Western Europe. With Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, Netherlands somewhat in the middle one of the most sobering lessons for them was the behaviours of Member States like Poland or Hungary. Those states which had been receiving most of EU subsidies (i.e. taxpayers’ monies of the states asking for solidarity) were those which refused, delayed or tricked to escape assuming the fair share of refugees. So, the absence of peace in Syria had become another painful reminder to those in audience or the wider public, how vulnerable democracies are to persisting wars, even if they appear to be far away from home or outside Europe. Given this climate Mohammad’s question was all the more timely, because in 2017 there was a new momentum by the great powers in resolving the Syrian issue.

After an interruption of talks the United Nations made a new attempt to bring again Syrian, regional, and international parties to the negotiation table, while building on the groundwork by Kofi Annan in 2012   5). End of November Saudi Arabia managed to unite the fragmented opposition against Assad in a Syrian Negotiations Commission and constitute a single party to talks under the aegis of the UN. The meeting took place at Vienna on January 26, 2018. Technically it was designed to discuss a reform of Syria’s constitution, but the meeting failed, because the envoys of the Damascus’ regime blocked negotiations. Their reasons were quite obvious. Four days later Russia which is Assad’s closest ally had set the date for a one-day-summit on Syria at Sochi on the Black Sea. The meeting had been organised in parallel to the United Nations for many months, but reported several times. This time it should demonstrate the importance of Russia in finding a non-military solution. On January 30 Heads of State Vladimir Putin of Russia, Recep Erdoğan of Turkey and Hassan Rouhani of Iran met at Sochi, but independent observers said the outcome was a “fiasco”. While the UN negotiator was on site, major parts of the Syrian opposition were excluded, and Western parties absent. Fierce battles continued at Syrian Afrin and Idlib. With continued bombings, unpunished war crimes, a million displaced, a country ruined for decades, and no party to win, the role of the patron powers in not setting an end comes under scrutiny. After seven years the Syrian war has become more senseless than ever. Who could help making some sense out of it?

screenshot TUM video - Mohammad F AbdulhadiTwenty-six year old Mohammad Abdulhadi is one of those seeking answers. He was born in the Syrian city of Homs, and represents the generation who is capable to rebuild Syria. With the raging war he had already left Syria in 2012 for Egypt where he studied Electrical and Control Engineering and obtained his Bachelor at the University of Alexandria. Then he joined his family in Germany. Syrians hardly escape politics, but Mohammad strove for a better understanding. He attended a one-year course of political science at Universität Konstanz (DE), and later enrolled in TUM’s master program for power engineering. During an exchange semester at Seoul University he studied waste-to-energy projects and geothermal energy in Korea, and he currently works on his master thesis at Singapore. His work is part of a larger urban planning study   6) on designing and managing thermal systems connected to electrical systems, knowledge which is as relevant to Singapore’s new towns as to Europe, or – who knows – to Syria.

Mohammad told B2Bioworld that he refined his submission with the help of his father and despite rigorousscreenshot TUM speaker series 2018 MF Abdulhadi asking Kofi Annan university exams at the time. It is rare to get first-hand answers from a historical witness, and Kofi Annan can be seen still following rather closely the Syrian negotiation process. Staffan de Mistura’s predecessor might have failed to have the Geneva Comuniqué implemented in 2012, but since its publication it has been a major reference for all subsequent efforts. Asked why he asked such a detailed question, the Syrian student told he had been following the peace talks since the beginning, and the intervention of the United Nations has sparked high hopes to resolve the conflict. Speaking for himself, his persecuted compatriots, and forcibly displaced Syrians he said: “We’re still waiting for the moment where there are no more dictatorship and no more fears of any revenge actions in Syria. At that time, millions of Syrians will immediately go back to their cities in Syria and start the rebuilding process. After seven years of suffering, Syrians need an honest answer why the conflict has not solved so far?»

Here is the answer by Kofi Annan  7):

Comment by Wolf G Kroner

Kofi Annan’s answer to student Mohammad Abdulhadi

((salam alaykum / peace be upon you)) السلام عليكم

© Wolf G Kroner 2018 Kofi A AnnanYou are right I was the Syrian envoy.I took on the challenge as difficult as it was. I told the Security Council that this is almost a mission impossible, but I am prepared to take this on provided you support me and stay with the process. I also indicated that there has to be one peace process that everybody set in place, because from experience if you have too many peace envoys and peace (plans) the parties play. If they don’t like what I say, they will go to him. (If) they don’t like what you told them, and then they come to you. So it has to be focused.

And I did put forward several proposals: The first one, I was trying to build the peace from the ground. And I think you are referring to the Six-Point Plan which everybody seemed to accept that it is the only game in town, but they were paying lip service to it. They were really not that sincere – in the sense that at that point severa© Wolf G Kroner 2018 Kofi A Annanl groups thought they would win the war. And yet with my involvement given the military balance on the ground I did not see either side winning the war in 2012, or in the position to give a knockout point.

And so, when I realised that those who were the profiteers, those who were pulling the strings, paying for the war, sending in the weapons, we’re not going to have build it from the ground, I went the other way. That was going to work with the profiteers.

And basically it is interesting that we are discussing this in Germany  - and I looked up historically what happened in Europe after the Thirty Years’ War   8). In the end everyone realised, it was a senseless, unfair war destroying and killing each other. Then they met in Westphalia and came up with a peace agreement. So, I thought we should try and create a Westphalian moment for Middle East, because everybody was involved. Syrians couldn’t do it alone. You couldn’t leave the region to resolve it given the tensions between Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, and Turkey and the Kurds and others. So you needed everybody, Syrians, the region, and international community, that is the Security Council working together, agree a common framework, and then © Wolf G Kroner 2018 Kofi A Annanmove forward. And that is why I introduced that key paragraph in the Geneva Comuniqué of June 2012 which indicated that what was required was a transitional government with full executive authority, Syrian managed and Syrian run. Because at that point the West and the Americans were saying : Assad must go! But they had no means of (   ) getting him to go. The Russians in my discussions with them including (   ) Putin said: Look, if Assad would leave today, what happens? We don’t want a chaotic collapse. If we have a chaotic collapse the terrorists will be all the better playing including our (             ). So I said then, you all have to work together to find (a solution). So that was a re-basis of the Geneva Comuniqué. And they were to leave Geneva and get a security council resolution endorsing that approach. They got to New York and started  accusing and fighting each other. And the divisions reappeared. At that point they had come together, but the divisions reappeared in New York and they did not do the follow-up action that they should have done so that we could act on the Geneva Comuniqué.

© Wolf G Kroner 2018 Kofi A AnnanAnd, really, that was very disappointing for me. And I realised I was more serious than those who gave me the job. So I told friends: I lost my troops on the way to Damascus. Anyway, they dropped the ball and I told my staff: Let’s rely (on), because very shortly they will come to the same conclusion we have. And they’ll be where we are today. And I thought it’ll take a couple of months, but it took three years. It was not until December 2015 that they took a decision in Vienna to push ahead with peace based on the Geneva Comuniqué of 2012. This was the reason why I realised I couldn’t be (           ). I thought my resignation would be a wake-up call, but I was wrong. It didn’t anybody wake up. And we have still killing with lot of proxy wars in Syria. And some people are behaving as if they are determined to fight to the last Syrian. And I hope they are not allowed to do that.

((shukran / thank you)) ششكرا لك.


Editorial Notes

1) Kofi Atta Annan (1938) is a UN diplomat and Nobel Peace Laureate 2001. He began studies of economics at the University of Science and Technology in his hometown Kumasi (GH), went to Macalester College, St. Paul MN (US), and graduated at Institut universitaire des hautes études internationals, Genève (CH). In 1972 he obtained a MSc. in Management from M.I.T. (US). In 1962 he joined the United Nations at Genève, working first with the World Health Organization, then with the Refugee Agency before joining headquarters in New York, and becoming the UN’s Secretary–General from 1997 to 2006. Since then he served in various diplomatic peace missions, such as for Syria in 2012. Out of his many affiliations Mr. Annan is Chancellor of University of Ghana at Accra, and Founder of Fondation Kofi Annan at Genève where he lives today.

2) The full recording may be accessed at YouTube. Mohammad Abdulhadi’s question and Kofi Annan’s answer can be followed 69 minutes into the recording.

3) This is also called « Geneva Comuniqué ». United Nations (2012): Action Group for Syria. Final Comuniqué.June 30: www.un.org/News/dh/infocus/Syria/FinalCommuniqueActionGroupforSyria.pdf. See also Kofi Annan’s address.

4) The majority of asylum seekers in the EU Member States are from Syria. In 2017, the number of first-time applicants in the EU-28 sharply decreased to less than third, from 339,000 in the previous year to 105,000. While the flux of all these migrants to Europe (EU28 +) dropped by 44% during that period, the number of Syrian applicants drastically fell by 68%. End of 2017 Germany hosted 545,000 Syrian refugees since the start of the civil war, which is the highest share of all European countries (see above EUROSTAT chart).

5) The officially agreed wording is not talking about «peace», but about translating the armed «conflict» into a «genuine political process». For a chronology prior to November 2017 see UN Security Council.

6) The Project called «Connecting District Energy and Power Systems in Future Singaporean New Towns» is a collaboration between TUM and ETH Zürich at the Future Cities Laboratory, Singapore-ETH Centre.

7) The following transcript from the YouTube recording needs further improvements. Unclear statements are in «(  )». «((     ))» indicate editorial annotations. B2Bioworld  welcomes your suggestions.

8) Peace of Westphalia ended thirty years of religious war in Europe. In 1648, after four years of negotiations, and several treaties signed between May and October the peace was sealed in the cities of Münster and Osnabrück, which were then part of the Duchy of Westphalia, a territory in northwestern Germany.


August 18, 2018

Kofi Annan sadly passed away today. I met him in February 2018 and was impressed by his deep conviction that peace which benefits all can be brought about by overarching institutional platforms for communication while engaging stakeholders and the public in direct interaction. His life, his successes as well as his failures are a vivid reminder that you can sustainably contribute to humanity even if you are not perfect, because others will build on your example and experience. It was a privilege to meet and listen to him.

Wolf G Kroner, Editor-in-Chief, B2Bioworld

Staffan de Mistura, United Nations Special Envoy for Syria
Press Briefing Following Security Council Briefing; New York, 20 December 2018

Staffan de Misura: Today I am going to limit myself simply to what I have been saying at the Security Council, it was a very long intervention and there were many points that I had made both in terms of legacy and the messaging - so I really frankly don’t believe that I want to add anything.

Now, to reassure you because I want to believe that in view of the fact that we have been working together here so many occasions over the last four years, that you are not being deprived from anything, because I know you have a job, I have a job, you have a job and I always respected it, I can assure you that I do not plan, neither intend to make any press conference or any interview before my departure, end of mission

There are two reasons for that, the first on are, I really, really, respect what I would like anyone to do [in my case]. In other words, imagine if I started giving prescriptions, regarding lessons learned, what should be done, or what could be done, or what was not done, publicly - that would not be fair for my successor, who as I told you I respect and is a friend. The second reason is that, with events which have been taking place recently, there is a lot of movement taking place, and I need to, naturally, metabolise all what is been happening during the last year, and then after that, after I end my mission, I may be involved in putting it in writing or answering questions – so forgive me if I do not actually raise any other point.

Press Question: What is the impact of the US withdrawal from Syria? What do you expect? Did Assad win?

The answer to that for us is the following: As far as I am concerned - and I am sure I am talking, not only on my behalf - it is totally premature for making any comments on my side on the implications, the effects, of that important decision which was announced yesterday, both on the political ground, and on the military ground, so I am unable to make any comments, it is premature for me to do so.

Do you have a message for the Syrian people right now? You have been in the job for four and a half years, should they have any hope?

This is a valid point.  The Syrian people, and you heard how much I referred to them - and when I mention civil society, when I mention the women, I am not mentioning political leaders, I am talking about the people - should know one thing, and I have been trying to say it.  I have been holding the fort for four and half years, I have always said: I was not ever going to abandon them, and what I meant is the UN, will never abandon them, they should know that, they have gone through terrible things.

There are only actually two constants in this whole conflict as I have seen. One, there has never been a constant moment - look what has been happening, we get constantly changes both militarily, politically - going through the four years.  And the second constant, the Syrian people have been constantly suffering in between that.  So, they should know that whatever happens it is nothing depending on Mr. de Mistura, or Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi, or Kofi Annan or even Geir Pedersen - it will be the UN. The UN will never abandon the Syrian people.  And if you look fairly at what has happened it could have been many more victims if the UN - through food aid, through vaccinations, through making life complicated to everyone by establishing committees, meetings, hoping to make any type of difference, and ceasefires – would have been many more and they know it.

s this enough? No, but we will never abandon them – and it is not about a person coming and going – although I said I think quite a long time, hoping and believing that at a certain point an entry point would have come. It has not yet come but I do see this possibility.

       Updated B2Bioworld December 21, 2018: Extract of Transcript


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