Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is quitting as international peace envoy for Syria, frustrated by "finger-pointing" at the United Nations while the armed rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad becomes increasingly bloody.
As battles raged on Thursday in Syria's second city, Aleppo, between rebel fighters and government forces using war planes and artillery, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced in New York that Annan had said he would go at the end of the month.
"Kofi Annan deserves our profound admiration for the selfless way in which he has put his formidable skills and prestige to this most difficult and potentially thankless of assignments," Ban said. Talks were under way to find a successor.
Annan's mission, centered on an April ceasefire that never took hold, has looked irrelevant as fighting has intensified in Damascus, Aleppo and elsewhere. Annan blamed "finger-pointing and name-calling" at the UN Security Council for his decision to quit but suggested his successor may have better luck.
Russia, the United States, Britain and France began pointing fingers at one another over who was responsible for Annan's sudden announcement he would depart. One senior council diplomat said it was now time to acknowledge the "utter irrelevance of an impotent Security Council" on Syria. Syria expressed regret that Annan was going.
“Assad must leave”
Annan suggested that the continued arming of all sides in the conflict and the Security Council deadlock had undermined his ability to pursue a diplomatic solution. "The increasing militarization on the ground and the clear lack of unity in the Security Council, have fundamentally changed the circumstances for the effective exercise of my role," Annan told reporters.
In an editorial published on the Financial Times' website, Annan said Russia, China and Iran "must take concerted efforts to persuade Syria's leadership to change course and embrace a political transition" -- meaning the departure of Assad. "It is clear that President Bashar al-Assad must leave office," Annan said.
“West undermined Annan”
Annan wrote that Western powers, the Saudis and Qatar must start "pressing the opposition to embrace a fully inclusive political process - that will include communities and institutions currently associated with the government." Ban's spokesman, Martin Nesirky, declined to comment on who might replace Annan but said a decision could come soon.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, a strong supporter of Assad, said he regretted Annan's decision to step aside and referred to him as a "brilliant diplomat." Moscow's UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, suggested to reporters in New York that Western powers that had opposed "reasonable and balanced proposals" in the Security Council had undermined Annan's peace efforts from the start.
“Moscow and Beijing to blame”
China expressed regret late on Thursday over Annan's resignation and said it was open "towards any proposals that would help promote a political solution to the Syria issue."
The White House pinned the blame squarely on Moscow and Beijing, which together vetoed three resolutions intended to increase the pressure on Assad, thereby undercutting Annan. "Annan's resignation highlights the failure at the United Nations Security Council of Russia and China to support resolutions, meaningful resolutions, against Assad that would have held Assad accountable," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One.