Kofi Annan On Syria, Hard Choices Of Peacekeeping The Nobel Peace Prize winner and former secretary-general of the U.N. has co-authored a book on his life's work, Interventions: A Life in War and Peace. He spoke with NPR's Scott Simon about difficult experiences involving Kosovo and Rwanda, as well as the future of Syria.
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Kofi Annan On Syria, Hard Choices Of Peacekeeping

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Kofi Annan On Syria, Hard Choices Of Peacekeeping

Kofi Annan On Syria, Hard Choices Of Peacekeeping

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Kofi Annan has dedicated his life to seeking peace. The Nobel Peace Prize winner was the first career U.N. staffer to become secretary-general of the United Nations after having been an assistant secretary-general for human resources, then finance, finally, the head of Peacekeeping Operations, where he would be sorely tested by massacres in Somalia, Rwanda and Bosnia.

Mr. Annan was secretary-general, the first from sub-Saharan Africa, for two terms. Most recently, of course, Kofi Annan was the U.N. and Arab League envoy to Syria, but he quit that post in August, criticizing the U.N. Security Council for its failure to take action. Mr. Annan has written a book about his life's work, "Interventions: A Life in War and Peace."

He joins us from Geneva. Mr. Annan, thanks so much for being with us.

KOFI ANNAN: I'm happy to be with you.

SIMON: Is there always a peaceful solution? Is talk always the best?

ANNAN: No, I think there may be times when you cannot find a peaceful solution, but at least one should try. Now, I, as secretary-general of the U.N., endorsed military action in Kosovo, arguing that there are moments when you need to put force at the service of peace because we had seen what had happened in Bosnia.

SIMON: But let me ask you about - I must say I found the most heart-wrenching part of the book, January 1994, you, to your credit, caught the cable that General Dallaire, the Canadian general who was head of U.N. peacekeeping mission in Rwanda sent to your headquarters. And he said he had information the government militia of the early Hutus was preparing a massacre of Tutsis.

And General Dallaire said he wanted to take action in the next 36 hours and ended the cable by saying, allons-y, let's go. And he says that you told him no. Why?

ANNAN: Romeo indicated in that cable that it could be a trap. But more importantly, he did not have the capacity to take on that operation, nor did he have the mandate, and mandate is an important issue for U.N. operations. Secondly, we do not have troops. We borrow troops from governments. If we are seen as taking undue risks with those men and women, often the governments either withdraw them or sometimes even tell them not to obey the instructions of the commander on the ground.

I, at the time, agreed with Dallaire that if he had had 5,000 men, he could have made a difference. I personally talked to dozens of member-states, and nobody wanted to offer troops. And I recall at that point saying, if even genocide cannot make us move, what will propel us to stand up and protect our fellow human beings?

It was a very painful period, not just for me, but for all those working in the department, and particularly for Dallaire and the men on the ground; the sense of hopelessness, wanting to help, wanting to confront these people, but simply not having the capacity to do it.

SIMON: We should note as you do in your books that whatever pains you felt in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations at the U.N., there were 800,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandans that died in the weeks that followed.

ANNAN: Yeah, that's the most painful, and that haunted and haunts some of us still.

SIMON: Can you see, Mr. Annan, why the blue helmets sometimes get a certain amount of cynicism from people on the ground when they show up, who have not heard your very logical explanation and expect them to do more?

ANNAN: No, I can understand it, and perhaps part of the problem is also our fault, in the sense that we don't take steps to lower expectations. Questions of inadequate mandate, lack of resources doesn't really mean much to the desperate person on the ground who's looking for salvation. And therefore, we sometimes get blamed even for trying, and on most occasions, we are the only ones trying.

SIMON: Mr. Annan, as we noted, you've recently been the U.N. and Arab League representative on Syria and resigned, criticizing the U.N. Security Council for lack of action. What would you have liked the U.N. Security Council to do or do now?

ANNAN: Let me start by saying that the first group that should take responsibility for the failure is, first of all, the government and its intransigence, and its refusal to implement faithfully the six-point plan. And the opposition, which eventually also gave up and decided to accelerate this military actions to confront the government. And in fact, I think one of my biggest disappointments, which I will share with you, was on the 30th of June.

We had a difficult but a constructive meeting in Geneva to discuss a political transition. They agreed on a communique, but on the 19th of July when the council eventually acted the resolution was vetoed by Russia and China.

SIMON: You felt undercut?

ANNAN: I felt undercut, and I also felt that perhaps I was seeing the problem differently than they were, because honestly I don't see a military solution in the Syrian crisis. The mosaic of Syrian society is such that we need to put on the table an agreement or a settlement that ensures that interests of each group is looked at, whether they are Christian, Druze, Sunni, Shia, Alawite, Kurdish, so that the protagonists know what the option is, that you can stop fighting, but it doesn't mean you will lose everything. Your interests will be protected.

SIMON: Is it possible to have that if President Assad is in power?

ANNAN: Assad will have to go. You cannot remain in power when so many people have been killed and are dying. No leader can retain legitimacy after this. The question is how he goes, and when he goes.

SIMON: Kofi Annan, joining us from Geneva. His new book is "Interventions: A Life in War and Peace." Mr. Annan, thanks so much for all your time.

ANNAN: It's my pleasure.

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