Kofi Annan briefed the press today on his efforts as the United Nations/Arab League special envoy for Syria. His main message was that the small, fitful observer mission is the last best hope to prevent a full scale civil war in Syria.

Annan stressed that the observer mission, which now includes 60 military observers, has had a “calming effect” on places monitors visit. “It is clear that the presence of our observers, and in places where they have intervened, have been able to get the forces involved to do the right thing,” said Annan. “When more come, they will have a better effect.”  According to the UK ambassador to the UN, the full compliment of 300 observers should deploy by the end of the month.

He stressed that the human rights abuses continue and that the Syrian government has not lived up to its obligations under the Six Point Plan to which they agreed last month. Still, his main message was that this observer mission and the accompanying Six Point Plan for political reconciliation and humanitarian access is the international community’s only hope for avoiding a catastrophic civil war in Syria:

 “This is the only remaining chance to stabilize the country. There is a profound concern that the country would otherwise turn into a civil war. The implications of that would be frightening.”

He’s right. Militarizing this conflict means outside groups supporting one side of a civil war. Should that happen, we can imagine other groups (say, Iran or Russia) supporting the Assad regime. A somewhat localized conflict could turn into a regional conflagration. And when fighting escalates, humanitarian concerns will grow even more urgent. More civilians will die. More people will suffer.

On the other hand, diplomacy backed by the full Security Council is the only way to avoid a deeper, bloodier civil war.

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