Middle East

Annan's Syria plan: Ailing but not yet dead

It may be too early to draw a definitive line under Kofi Annan's peace plan for Syria. That's certainly Mr Annan's view - he has described his plan as being still "very much alive" but then he could probably do little else.

He is not ready to pronounce the plan dead for the simple reason, that it is the only diplomatic solution in play. It is backed by the UN Security Council, by the Syrian opposition and rhetorically at least, by the Syrian government itself.

But that said, the Annan plan is not looking in terribly good health. Under its terms the Syrian government was to have withdrawn its heavy weapons and troops from residential areas "in their entirety" no later than 10 April.

This would lead to a full-scale ceasefire within 48 hours. The plan my still be on the table but time is fast running out.

Image caption Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem (L) discussed the plan with Russia's Sergei Lavrov

Indeed, over the last few days fighting has intensified. The Syrian government has insisted on guarantees from the opposition that they will also observe in the ceasefire.

And most worrying of all, there has been shooting from Syria into Turkey. Two Syrians crossing the border were killed and some 15 injured.

This risks escalating the crisis, with Turkey likely to take a muscular view about defending its own territory.

Ahmet Davotoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, is cutting short a trip to China and heading home following the incident.

'More decisive'

The visit of the Syrian Foreign Minister, Walid Muallem, to Moscow on Tuesday presented an opportunity for the Russians, seemingly the only country with any, albeit limited, leverage over the Syrian regime, to apply additional pressure.

The Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, made it clear that he had told his Syrian counterpart that their actions "could be more active" and "more decisive" in terms of implementing the Annan plan.

According to Mr Lavrov, the Syrian foreign minister told him that his government had begun to implement the requirements regarding the use of weapons in cities. But no further details were given.

Image caption Syria is buying time to escalate its armed onslaught on the opposition, the BBC's Jonathan Marcus says

And while the Russians appear to have been blunt in their assessment, Mr Lavrov underscored Moscow's traditional position that the Syrian opposition also commit to the Annan plan. Russia appears to want change in Syria, but not at the price of chaos.

Kofi Annan's proposals, unlike the Arab League's peace plan for Syria, did not require President Bashar al-Assad to hand power to his deputy.

There was simply a commitment to work with Mr Annan towards "an inclusive political process". This is why it was felt that President Assad would back the deal.

Escalation

But the realities of the situation have not changed. The Syrian regime sees itself as having its back to the wall, fighting for its survival.

It has been willing to employ terrible force against its own citizens, using the international community's divisions and lack of options to buy time to escalate its military onslaught on the opposition. It clearly sees no benefit in a negotiated deal that might weaken its grip on power.

Equally, the opposition does not have the firepower to take on the Syrian military.

The danger now is that a growing flow of arms to the rebels will further militarise the crisis, pushing it towards a full-scale civil war.

There could be a good deal more unpleasantness ahead. This carries with it the growing risk that some cross-border incident with Turkey could exhaust Ankara's patience and encourage its troops to become directly involved.

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