The White House sped new humanitarian aid to Syria and heaped fresh pressure on Syrian President Bashar Assad to quit power on Thursday after Kofi Annan resigned as the top international mediator in the bloody 17-month crisis.
In a parting shot, the former U.N. secretary-general and Nobel Peace Prize winner wrote in the Financial Times that the international community had proved "strikingly powerless" in the face of the violence. He also scolded President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, saying they needed to show "courage and leadership" to find a compromise.
Obama spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One that the president was "grateful" to Annan for his work and said his resignation highlighted Assad's determination "to brutally murder his own people" as well as the "failure" of Russia and China to support international efforts to end the bloodshed.
"It is disgusting, and really highlights the absolute requirement that for the future of the Syrian people, Assad must step aside," Carney said, declaring that Russia and China were "on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of the Syrian people."
In a separate written statement, Carney also announced that Obama had approved another $12 million in humanitarian aid, bringing overall help from Washington for those affected by the conflict to more than $76 million. Carney warned that the situation was "dire and rapidly deteriorating" and said the United States was providing "food, water, medical supplies, clothing, hygiene kits, and other humanitarian relief to those most urgently in need." (Obama has publicly resisted calls to arm rebels against Assad's rule, though media reports over the past few weeks have indicated that the CIA and other governmental agencies are playing a covert role in helping the opposition.)
Carney also urged all parties "to ensure the safety of civilians and aid workers, and the safe and unimpeded delivery of relief supplies to those in need."
International observers say the conflict has left more than 10,000 dead, displaced more than 1 million Syrians internally, and sent 130,000 refugees into neighboring countries, notably Turkey.
Obama has discussed the crisis this week with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, French President François Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti. Efforts to galvanize international action have stalled because of opposition from Russia and China, which have vetoed U.N. Security Council resolutions aimed at speeding Assad's departure. Moscow has had a historically warm relationship with Damascus, to which it has sold weapons, and both Russia and China are generally leery of setting precedents for international action against a country that uses force to suppress uprisings.
Annan's departure throws the already sputtering diplomatic efforts into further doubt. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the envoy's resignation "with deep regret" and praised him for tackling "this most difficult and potentially thankless of assignments." Ban said the search was already on to find a successor—but also acknowledged the failure of Annan's six-point plan for ending the crisis.
"Tragically, the spiral of violence in Syria is continuing. The hand extended to turn away from violence in favor of dialogue and diplomacy—as spelled out in the six-point plan—has not been not taken, even though it still remains the best hope for the people of Syria," Ban said. "Both the government and the opposition forces continue to demonstrate their determination to rely on ever-increasing violence. In addition, the persistent divisions within the Security Council have themselves become an obstacle to diplomacy, making the work of any mediator vastly more difficult."
Ban said the U.N. still hoped for "a Syrian-led solution that meets the legitimate democratic aspirations of its people."
Annan's six-point plan had called for Assad's government to pull its forces from civilian population areas and for the opposition to disarm, steps meant to lead to a political transition—widely seen as a path for pushing Assad from power. The Syrian leader agreed to the plan, but never fully implemented it.
In a scathing op-ed on the Financial Times website, Annan vented his frustration at the "strikingly powerless" international community and bluntly declared "it is clear that President Bashar al-Assad must leave office."
"Syria can still be saved from the worst calamity. But this requires courage and leadership, most of all from the permanent members of the Security Council, including from Presidents Putin and Obama," Annan said.
"Is ours an international community that will act in defense of the most vulnerable of our world, and make the necessary sacrifices to help?" he wrote. "The coming weeks in Syria will tell."