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Bashar al-Assad may be beating Annan plan in Syria for now, but he won't for long

Putting UN monitors on the ground in Syria as part of Kofi Annan’s wider peace plan is a constructive step forward. But for now, Bashar al-Assad continues to set most of the terms. With more creative international action he will not be able to do so in the medium to long term.

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The courageous recent report of a Human Rights Watch team that documented dozens of extra-judicial executions in Syria in March should receive wide international exposure. And a global call for International Criminal Court indictments of police and armed forces commanders leading such killings must be issued.

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Other proactive initiatives will need to take advantage of the emerging realities that already exist to undermine Assad’s tactics. For example, the presence of UN observers might reawaken the Arab League and embolden them anew to narrow the military and political space available to Assad.

Even a part-time cease-fire might well permit more Syrian armed forces personnel to desert or defect than have been able to under conditions of continued fighting.

The multi-city Syrian protests following last Friday’s prayers undoubtedly demonstrate to Assad the costs of even a limited government cease-fire. Despite Assad’s brutal victories, the people are not cowed by fear of coming back to the streets in significant numbers, especially if they can assume (or hope) the government will not kill them.

Their numbers will undoubtedly grow and their actions will become more bold every Friday and at each funeral. Thus the monitors and Annan must assure the right of peaceful protests as a fulcrum to political dialogue with the opposition.

And Annan, the US, and others must continue to dialogue with the Russians. Despite verbal support for Assad, there are some signs that Russian patience with him is wearing thin. Chaos is a condition Assad believes will favor his claim that he is fighting terrorists and that only his survival provides hope for the future. But Russia fears such chaos and its regional implications, and this may make it open to different strategies with Syria.

Until now, Assad has countered every step forward that outsiders take to end violence in Syria. But as with other murderous dictators, Assad’s over-confidence and miscalculations will get the best of him.

Outsiders can hasten this end by closing every small space they can in which Assad will try to maneuver. For now, he may be able to sidestep the constraint of UN peace monitors. But with more concentrated and creative international action to bolster the monitors and the Annan plan, Assad will not be able to do so in the medium to long term.

George A. Lopez holds the Hesburgh Chair in Peace Studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame. A former member of a UN sanctions expert panel, he writes frequently on the Security Council and UN sanctions.


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