The Cable

The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.

Obama officials: Annan plan ‘failing’

Two top Obama administration officials said today that the diplomatic initiative to end the violence in Syria, led by U.N. Special Envoy Kofi Annan, "is failing." Under intense questioning during Thursday’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, both Kathleen Hicks, the current deputy under secretary of defense for policy, and Derek Chollet, National Security Council senior ...

BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images
BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images
BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images

Two top Obama administration officials said today that the diplomatic initiative to end the violence in Syria, led by U.N. Special Envoy Kofi Annan, "is failing."

Under intense questioning during Thursday's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, both Kathleen Hicks, the current deputy under secretary of defense for policy, and Derek Chollet, National Security Council senior director for strategy, said that the Annan plan was headed toward collapse and that new options for confronting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were being prepared.

Two top Obama administration officials said today that the diplomatic initiative to end the violence in Syria, led by U.N. Special Envoy Kofi Annan, "is failing."

Under intense questioning during Thursday’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, both Kathleen Hicks, the current deputy under secretary of defense for policy, and Derek Chollet, National Security Council senior director for strategy, said that the Annan plan was headed toward collapse and that new options for confronting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were being prepared.

Asked by the committee’s ranking Republican, Arizona Sen. John McCain, if Assad had complied with the six points of the Annan plan for Syria, which charts a path away from violence toward political negotiations, Chollet acknowledged that violence is actually increasing.

"Do you believe the Annan plan has succeeded or failed?" McCain asked both officials.

"I would say it is failing," Chollet said.

"I would say it is failing and that Annan himself is extremely worried about the plan," Hicks concurred.

Annan lamented reports of increased violence Wednesday but said he still wanted to increase the number of monitors on the ground.

"If confirmed, this is totally unacceptable and reprehensible," said Annan."Equally, a credible political process is required if we are to sustain any long-term calm on the ground."

As The Cable reported last week, Chollet was added recently to the senior leadership of the Syria policy team and is coordinating the interagency process to look for a "Plan B" for U.S. policy for if and when the diplomatic initiatives break down.

Several times during the hearing, McCain complained that the United States was not leading in Syria, waiting for others to request more assertive action and hiding behind the excuse that there was no international consensus on the way forward.

"My view is that the United States is leading diplomatically," said Hicks, pointing to the Friends of Syria group of countries that meets periodically to discuss the issue as well as repeated action at the U.N. Security Council.

"Actually, we have not led the Friends of Syria, at least according to the Friends of Syria, because I have met with them, so that’s not a fact," McCain said.

The Pentagon is planning for the possibility that the U.S. military might be called upon to participate in a mission to establish safe zones along the Turkey-Syria border, according to Hicks.

"We are doing a significant amount of planning for a wide range of scenarios, including our ability to assist allies and partners along the borders," she said.

But Chollet said that Turkey has not yet requested a discussion within NATO about setting up safe zones inside Syria, which would require military support. He added that if Turkey did request such a discussion, NATO would be obliged to take up the matter.

"I am unaware of any official or any serious discussions for that matter about how NATO might help Turkey in that regard," Chollet said.

McCain said that expanding the U.N. observer mission, which only has 15 people on the ground right now, would likely not solve the problem. He referred to Thursday’s Washington Post editorial, "Where U.N. monitors go in Syria, killings follow."

The editorial noted reports that the Assad regime is sweeping into villages and towns as soon as the monitors leave, killing civilians and punishing those who are suspected of cooperating with the U.N. mission.

McCain was scolding and sometimes sarcastic about what he regards as a feckless U.S. Syria policy.

"I’m glad to hear that we are playing such a ‘leadership role’," McCain said. "I can guarantee you nobody in the Middle East thinks that. I can guarantee you that this is a shameful situation where people are being slaughtered. We are talking about economic sanctions and diplomatic sanctions. We should be helping these people."

Hicks has been nominated to be principal deputy under secretary of defense for policy, succeeding acting Under Secretary of Defense for Policy James Miller, and Chollet has been nominated to be assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, succeeding Sandy Vershbow, who is now NATO’s deputy secretary-general.

On Wednesday, French Foreign Minister Alan Juppe raised the idea of intervening militarily against the Assad regime in Syria and said that the Security Council might have to consider a Chapter 7 resolution, which could authorize the use of force. "We cannot allow the [Assad] regime to defy us," he said.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

More from Foreign Policy

Soldiers of the P18 Gotland Regiment of the Swedish Army camouflage an armoured vehicle during a field exercise near Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland on May 17.
Soldiers of the P18 Gotland Regiment of the Swedish Army camouflage an armoured vehicle during a field exercise near Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland on May 17.

What Are Sweden and Finland Thinking?

European leaders have reassessed Russia’s intentions and are balancing against the threat that Putin poses to the territorial status quo. 

Ukrainian infantry take part in a training exercise with tanks near Dnipropetrovsk oblast, Ukraine, less than 50 miles from the front lines, on May 9.
Ukrainian infantry take part in a training exercise with tanks near Dnipropetrovsk oblast, Ukraine, less than 50 miles from the front lines, on May 9.

The Window To Expel Russia From Ukraine Is Now

Russia is digging in across the southeast.

U.S. President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken participate in a virtual summit with the leaders of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue countries at the White House in Washington on March 12.
U.S. President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken participate in a virtual summit with the leaders of Quadrilateral Security Dialogue countries at the White House in Washington on March 12.

Why China Is Paranoid About the Quad

Beijing has long lived with U.S. alliances in Asia, but a realigned India would change the game.

Members of the National Defence Training Association of Finland attend a training.
Members of the National Defence Training Association of Finland attend a training.

Finns Show Up for Conscription. Russians Dodge It.

Two seemingly similar systems produce very different militaries.