On March 27, Syrian President Bashar Assad accepted a six-point peace plan that United Nations special envoy to the region Kofi Annan presented him. Under this plan, Assad agreed to withdraw security forces from in and around major cities and towns by April 10 in preparation for a general cease-fire on April 12. Unfortunately, the days before the ceasefire were marked with intense violence: on April 10 alone, government forces killed at least 38 people. As the early hours of the ceasefire unfolded, a “cessation of hostilities appears to be holding,” said Annan, despite sporadic instances of violence and anti-government protests in several cities.
Annan’s optimism is uplifting, but most Western leaders and opposition groups are suspicious and cynical of the Syrian government. Is Assad “exploiting the window of diplomatic negotiations to crack down even harder” on the Syrian people? Why should Annan trust him when the Syrian government has failed to implement the Security Council demand that it withdraw troops from towns and cities?
5. The Violence Needs to Stop: According to UN estimates, the Syrian army has killed over 9,000 people since the protests first erupted 13 months ago. Assad has no qualms about continuing to crush the resistance with unflinching brutality. In response, some Arab states, notably Saudi Arabia and Qatar may become more open in arming and financing the rebels. The conflict will unravel into a war of attrition that will lead to a greater loss of lives and worsening socio-economic conditions.
4. Russia and China are Finally Cooperating: Annan’s six-point plan is the first Security Council attempt that Russia and China have supported after blocking previous international efforts to end the violence, most recently a February 4 UN resolution. Throughout Assad’s brutal crackdown, Russia and China have maintained that the both the government and the opposition are responsible for the violence, and have refused to “take side in a civil war.”
3. A Military Intervention is Unlikely: NATO has ruled out military intervention, and unilateral intervention by the U.S. is highly improbable, because America should not and cannot afford to enter another unilateral war. The international community is reliant on stringent economic sanctions on Syria, but these will only prolong the war and exacerbate civilian suffering.
2. The Opposition is Widespread, but Not Unanimous: The Syrian National Council, the main opposition to Assad’s regime, receives widespread support from large sections of the population, but all the protest groups are not united. In some cities, like Damascus and Aleppo, opposition to the regime is mixed and most minority groups like the Christians, Druse, and Alawites do not support the protests.
1. There is No Other Option: Assad has blatantly ignored the international community’s outrage over his violent repression of anti-government protesters. Unfortunately, he retains enough power within Syria to continue to disregard international pressure to surrender. While the fragile truce leaves much to be desired, it is the first time that the Syrian government has observed an international ceasefire since the army crack down on protesters in March 2011.
Assad has done nothing to deserve Annan’s patience or trust. He is clinging fiercely to his power and any hope of him willingly relinquishing control of the government is far-fetched. At the moment, no other option is feasible. Annan is making the right decision not to alienate him and coax him to the negotiating table in the hope that he will stop the killing.