Annan faces tough battle in Syria
UNITED NATIONS FORMER UN chief Kofi Annan has played diplomatic poker with dictators ranging from Saddam Hussein to Omar al Bashir, but the odds are stacked against him in taking on Syria’s ruthless president.
Two terms as UN secretary general, during which he won the Nobel Peace Prize but was himself accused of corruption, taught the 73-year-old Ghanaian how to look after himself in international negotiations.
Eloquent and self-effacing, Annan left office at the end of 2006 as one of the most popular UN leaders ever.
“A real pro,” was how Human Rights Watch’s director Kenneth Roth described Annan after the announcement on Thursday that the former UN leader would be the United Nations and Arab League’s special envoy on the Syria crisis.
Apart from a few years when he was Ghana’s director of tourism, Annan devoted his working life to the United Nations and other international agencies.
Having been in charge of UN human resources, its budget and then peacekeeping, the UN Security Council recommended Annan as secretary general in 1996. Mission impossibles soon came his way.
In 1998, Annan had to go to Baghdad to negotiate with Saddam after the Iraqi strongman threw out UN inspectors looking for signs of nuclear and chemical weapons.
He secured a deal to get inspectors back in, but it soon collapsed and US and British planes were bombing Iraq within months.
In 2004 he went to Khartoum to meet Sudan’s strongman leader Bashir to press for an end to the campaign by Janjaweed militia against civilians in the Darfur region. Bashir relented, but the concessions were again short lived.
Credited with rebuilding the UN’s reputation, he shared the Nobel Peace Prize with the United Nations in 2001.
And Annan has often proved his independence against the major powers.
He annoyed the United States and Britain when he said their 2003 invasion of Iraq was “illegal” because it was not supported by the UN Security Council.
Some commentators saw the 2005 investigation into Annan and his son over the UN oil-for-food corruption scandal in Iraq as a payback for his invasion comments.