International efforts to find a political solution to the violence in Syria are failing, United Nations special envoy Kofi Annan told French newspaper Le Monde.
“Evidently, we haven’t succeeded,” Annan, who also represents the Arab League, said in an interview with Le Monde published yesterday.
An uprising that began peacefully 16 months ago and evolved into a deadly confrontation has led the international community to reconsider its strategy over how to persuade Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose family has held power for four decades, to leave.
Syrian forces fought rebels in Aleppo in the north of the country as they sought to reassert control over the region, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. More than 50 people were killed yesterday, AP reported, citing activists.
The violence has claimed more than 10,000 lives. About 4,000 Syrians have been killed since Annan took on the peacemaking mission in February, according to the Local Coordination Committees, an activist group.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Annan’s admission should be a “wake-up call” to those who still support Assad.
“Annan was admitting the obvious,” Clinton said at a press conference today in Tokyo. It “should be a wake-up call to everyone. The future to me should be abundantly clear to those who support the Assad regime: their days are numbered.”
An absence of U.S. support for Syria’s rebels may lengthen Assad’s rule, Senator John McCain said on the CBS program “Face the Nation.”
Other countries in the region are “crying out for American leadership,” the Arizona Republican said. Assad’s “days are numbered, but these days could be very large in number. Right now, Bashar al-Assad is able to massacre and slaughter people and stay in power.”
The first defection of a member of Assad’s inner circle highlights the growing isolation of the Alawite-dominated regime. Syrian Brigadier-General Manaf Tlas, a Sunni Muslim, was a confidant of Assad, who is Alawite, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. His defection was announced in Paris by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius at a Friends of Syria meeting July 6.
The decision to abandon Assad “underscores the very real worry that this war is turning into a civil war drawn along religious, communal lines,” said Joshua Landis, director of the Middle East program at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, in response to e-mailed questions.
“If that happens, the regime will fall apart,” Landis said. “The Alawites cannot rule Syria alone.”
More than 70 percent of Syria’s population is Sunni, and Assad and his ruling minority depend on the loyalty of Sunni Muslim officers.
Tlas, formerly a commander in the elite Republican Guard, is the son of ex-Defense Minister Mustapha Tlas and was a childhood friend of Assad. Before leaving the country, he headed Brigade 105 in the Revolutionary Guard, according to the pro-government website Syria Steps.
Tlas urged other soldiers, regardless of their rank, to “quit this bad track,” according to a letter to his troops with his signature, reported by Agence France-Presse, which couldn’t verify the letter’s authenticity.
World powers adopted a plan for a Syrian transition government on June 30, altering a draft agreement proposed by Annan after Russia objected to language that would have prohibited and members of his inner circle from being part of a transitional government.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has recommended reducing the number of monitors in Syria, and having the smaller mission based in Damascus, to encourage a political dialogue. The UN monitors’ three-month mission expires July 20.
The Security Council will vote this week on a resolution based on Ban’s recommendations.
Clinton said at the Paris meeting of Friends of Syria that Russia and China, two veto-wielding members of the Security Council, are blocking movement toward a settlement in Syria and urged that they be pressured to end their support of Assad’s government.
“I ask you to reach out to Russia and China and not only ask, but demand they get off the sidelines,” Clinton said to more than 100 delegates at the conference. “I don’t think Russia and China think they are paying any price at all -- nothing at all -- for standing with the Assad regime.”
Clinton’s remarks were “totally unacceptable,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said in a statement on the ministry’s website. China has wide international support for its “just and constructive” stance to resolve the Syrian conflict, he said.
Russia didn’t attend this Friends of Syria meeting. Russian representatives were sent to a Syrian opposition meeting in Cairo on July 2-3.
Annan said in yesterday’s Le Monde that while Russia has influence on the situation, he isn’t certain that events will be determined by that country only. Shiite Iran can’t be ignored as an influential ally of Syria, Annan said.
Authorities have portrayed the unrest as a conspiracy and the protesters as radical Islamists. At the Paris gathering, opposition figures advocated a no-fly zone and criticized the group for moving too slowly to help Syrian civilians.
While Ban’s report says the UN can’t verify the number of casualties, the world body cites non-governmental organizations as reporting the number of dead since the outset of the insurrection to be 13,000 to 17,000.