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Is diplomacy dead? How to interpret Kofi Annan's resignation as UN's envoy in Syria.

Howard LaFranchiThe Christian Science Monitor

Syria envoy Kofi Annan called it quits Thursday, confirming a growing conclusion that international diplomacy is having no impact on the 17-month-old crisis and that the only path in Syria now appears to be one of fighting toward a violent end.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he remained convinced that “yet more bloodshed is not the answer.” He added that he is consulting with the Arab League, which teamed up with the UN in giving Mr. Annan his mandate, to find a replacement to “carry on this crucial peacemaking effort.”

But UN officials and regional analysts say it will be difficult to find anyone of Annan’s stature who could be expected to do any better at imposing an international peace plan on what analysts now consider to be a full-blown civil war. Annan preceded Mr. Ban as UN secretary-general and, though he was not always a Washington favorite, enjoys broad international respect.

Annan came up with a six-point peace plan for Syria earlier this year that envisioned a pullback from fighting and transitional steps toward a democratic government. While the plan was approved by the UN Security Council, it was never backed up by full international support.

The Security Council was expected to receive Annan’s resignation Thursday afternoon in a meeting on the monitoring mission in the Annan peace plan. Annan told Ban he was resigning as of the end of August, which coincides with the end of the monitoring mission’s mandate.

"When the Security Council failed to heed Mr. Annan's repeated calls for collective and significant consequences for non-compliance with its prior resolutions, those members who blocked this action effectively made Mr. Annan's mission impossible," said Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, in a statement Thursday.

The death knell of Annan’s efforts was sounded last month, when Russia and China vetoed a Security Council resolution on Syria for the third time in the course of the crisis. In response to that veto, the United States signaled that UN inaction would oblige it to bypass the UN to address Syria’s mounting violence and loss of life.

“We and others increasingly will have no choice but to look to partnerships and actions outside of this Council to protect the Syrian people,” Ambassador Rice said in response to the Russia-China veto July 19.

This week, Obama administration sources revealed that President Obama has signed an order authorizing the Central Intelligence Agency and other agencies to provide nonlethal support to Syria’s rebels – evidence of a shift toward more direct involvement with the rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The US was already on record supplying the rebels with communications equipment and working with neighboring countries to keep track of Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons. But Mr. Obama’s order suggests the kind of “partnerships and actions” that Rice was hinting at.

Annan’s resignation symbolizes the deep divisions in the international community that have precluded any meaningful diplomacy in a crisis that UN officials now say has claimed more than 20,000 lives.

The UN General Assembly had been expected to express its frustration with the Security Council’s inaction with a vote Thursday on a resolution “deploring” the Council’s failure to take any steps on Syria and calling for Mr. Assad to step down. But opposition to even that symbolic gesture from countries like Russia, Brazil, and India prompted Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries to water down their resolution.

A new draft, a whimper with none of the demands of the original version, is expected to be voted on Friday.