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Is The United Nations Staging A Comeback

Mindful of his legacy, Kofi Annan is determined to leave a positive mark as peace-maker. Defusing the Lebanon crisis and with it the embroiled Middle East presents itself as his last hurrah. And looking at his 11-day tour of the Middle East aimed to get all sides aboard for the implementation and support for a new initiative, the U.N. chief is doing rather well. Though momentarily disappointed by the failure to be received by Iran's supreme leader Ayatolloah Ali Khamenei, his accomplishments stabilized a dangerous situation.
by Viola Herms Drath
UPI Outside View Commentator
Washington (UPI) Sep 13, 2006
"The United Nations are back in demand, and back in action," the Berlin-based Atlantic Times informs its readers. Preoccupied with the war in Iraq and its open protectiveness of Israel, Washington has taken a back seat in the resolution of the entangled Middle East conflict.

Newly energized U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan took the lead in ending the 34-day war between Israel and Lebanon. As peace-maker, Annan took on the tricky task of reigning in Lebanon's embedded Hezbollah, whose leaders later regretted starting the hostilities, and their Syrian and Iranian sponsors.

The speed with which the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1701, calling for a cease-fire, may not have been overly impressive, but its implementation was. Annan, who in the absence of big power leadership, was first to provide a viable program to bring security to Israel and the troubled region provided a timely political framework for inter-locking confidence and security building measures aimed at jumpstarting the fledgling Middle East peace process.

While it may be too early to speak of a new Middle East peace plan, the momentum gained by his leadership on 1701 helped the secretary-general to advance the outlines of a new initiative based on a reversal in approach taken by the Middle East Quartet -- comprised of the United States, Russia, the EU, and United Nations.

Whereas the Middle East road map, advanced by the Quartet, calls for talks on soft issues on which agreement is deemed more readily attainable while keeping contentious hard-core issues in abeyance until final settlement talks, the Annan formula, taking a top-down big picture approach, calls for agreement on a final settlement first, before getting into nitty gritty talks on implementation.

In the forefront of efforts to halt the fighting, Annan saw the immediate cessation of hostilities as a necessary prelude to a cease-fire, upon which (followed by a swift lifting of the air and sea blockades) arrangements for prisoner release and early restoration of Lebanon's territorial integrity and wider-ranging political talks to stabilize the region could be based. The argument made seems to have swayed Syria, which has agreed to peace talks with Lebanon.

In close cooperation with the Saudis, the planning calls for a new Middle East peace initiative, based on a revised Saudi Peace plan, to be advanced by the Arab League, which, based on the land for peace formula, will call for Palestinian statehood, restoration of Lebanon's sovereignty and the return of the Golan heights to Syria in exchange for Arab recognition of Israel. According to one of Annan's special advisers, the secretary-general hopes for the Security Council to convene at the ministerial level to lock in the advances he made during his Middle East mission.

Based on understandings other than agreements, there will be anxious moments. Questions whether the fragile cessation of hostilities will hold come to mind. Many wonder whether the running of the blockade by Lebanon, tolerated by a forewarned Israel, will be the overture to mutual respect or increased distrust.

How long the coastal surveillance, executed by French Italian, British and Greek vessels until the German frigates and patrol boats arrive as part of multinational peacekeeping by UNIFIL-II, will be guarding Lebanon's coastline to enforce an arms embargo against the Shiite Muslim militia Hezbollah seems to be anybody's guess.

Armed forces of the world, including Qatar, an Arab nation, and Turkey, a Muslim country, are rushing to Lebanon to help keep weapons out of the hands of a militant Hezbollah that refuses to disarm. Nor, in a departure from established U.N. practice, is Hezbollah "being" disarmed prior to U.N. peacekeepers arriving in theater.

According to the special adviser, this greatly concerns Annan; the more so as there will be no international troops alongside Lebanese soldiers at the nine Lebanese-Syrian border checkpoints. Besides, ancient donkey trails have not lost their usefulness for weapons smugglers. Meanwhile Israel has retained the right to open fire on any vehicle suspected of running the blockade which, in turn, could force uneasy Syrians to retaliate, placing U.N. peacekeepers in jeopardy.

With the Middle East Quartet on life support Annan's designs for Middle East peace emerge at the right time. While Washington stays in the background, Europeans are quick to throw their full support behind a secretary-general filling the void. Ever reluctant to follow the administration's hard line, they prefer to endorse the international community's political soft power menus. Looking at a comprehensive settlement in the Middle East, Annan has become their man.

With the U.N.-brokered air and sea blockades lifted, Annan is feverishly working on the unconditional release of the two Israeli soldiers taken prisoner by Hezbollah, an action that exploded into a war that had no winners. "There must be one mediator and effective channel of communication" for talks between Israel and Hezbollah, he declared, before appointing a "facilitator" to deal with the culprits.

As is typical for Annan, the name of the chosen eminent person was withheld. Transparency never was Annan's strength. A man of quietude and circumspection, the Ghanaian tribal chief prefers discretion and behind the scenes diplomacy, characteristics that, no doubt contributed to his poor performance leading up to the "oil for food scandal" and his son's opportunistic activities.

Mindful of his legacy, Kofi Annan is determined to leave a positive mark as peace-maker. Defusing the Lebanon crisis and with it the embroiled Middle East presents itself as his last hurrah. And looking at his 11-day tour of the Middle East aimed to get all sides aboard for the implementation and support for a new initiative, the U.N. chief is doing rather well. Though momentarily disappointed by the failure to be received by Iran's supreme leader Ayatolloah Ali Khamenei, his accomplishments stabilized a dangerous situation.

Submitting a viable formula for the prisoner release, roping in Syria, working with the Arab League and a new Middle East peace initiative in his portfolio, the U.N. chief has opened a path to deal with global challenges by gaining consensus. Few remember the September World Summit in 2005, when the United Nations celebrated its 60th birthday and Annan pleaded for the United Nations' "most sweeping overhaul in its 60 year history". His reform program went nowhere. Yet few still remember that he was among those who recognized the difference between threat perceptions by the developed and developing worlds.

Is the United Nations up to its multifarious task in the Middle East? Nearing his exit, will Kofi Annan have the ability and support to translate his grand design into action? Only time will tell.

(Viola Herms Drath is a member of the executive committee of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy and the recipient of the 2005 William J. Flynn Initiative for Peace Award.)

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

Source: United Press International

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