Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was in Vancouver this week to talk about his new book, Interventions: A Life in War and Peace, to the Bon Mot Book Club. He also spoke to The Globe and Mail about the escalating crisis in Syria, to which Mr. Annan devoted nearly six months this year as the UN and Arab League special envoy to encourage a negotiated settlement.
Q: You were on The Daily Show this week. Did you enjoy that?
A: It was fun.
Q: Right off the bat, I’m going to ask you about something you told host Jon Stewart when he asked you: on the scale of peace or ‘run for your lives’, where are we? And you answered: “Close to run.” Could you elaborate on that?
A: We were discussing the Middle East, and the difficulties in Syria and in the region. It’s one of the most volatile parts of the world, and I think any miscalculation can create enormous difficulties for all of us. This is why I have always encouraged no further militarization and that we should find a way of steering the parties to the table. But the longer it waits, the more difficult it gets.
Q: You have written that a conflagration in Syria threatens a regional explosion that could affect the rest of the world. How so?
A: Syria is located in a volatile part of the world. It’s not neatly tucked away as Afghanistan, or Libya, for that matter. We have Iraq next door, which is not settled. We have Lebanon, which has shown incredible resilience and survival, but on some levels, it is still fragile. And we have a situation in Jordan and Turkey, where refugees are flowing. So if that whole situation were to get out of hand and spill over to its neighbours..., this is also a region where the oil-producing countries are not too far away. Any impact on oil prices could affect the global economy, which is already in a downturn.
It’s already created major tensions between the big powers. We see the tension between China and Russia on one side, and USA, France and UK on the other. We are seeing divisions within the UN that we haven’t seen since the Iraq war.
Q: The situation in Syria seems so distressing, so hopeless. You were actively involved there. How do you yourself react to what’s taking place there?
A: It’s sad, and I feel sorry for the people. There are so many agendas at play in a situation where we should be much more worried about the people. When I took the job, I said my only pre-occupation and my interests are the people of Syria.
Q: Yet you walked away.
A: I walked away for a very specific reason. When I took the job, I told the Security Council that this is almost an impossible job, but we can make a difference if the international community, that is the Security Council, sticks together, and gives united support, with sustained pressure on the parties to seek a political settlement.
This is why, in the end, we met in Geneva on the 30th of June, and that communique would be very interesting for you to look at, because that communique spells out principles and guidelines for a political transition. All five permanent members of the Security Council signed on to it at the Foreign Minister level.