April 3, 2012 (Alarabiya with agencies)
April 3, 2012 (Alarabiya with agencies)
The United States, Britain and France are working on a U.N. Security Council statement putting a formal stamp on an April 10 deadline for Syria to withdraw troops and guns from protest cities, diplomats said.
The three western permanent members of the Security Council — will send out the draft presidential statement, which has a lower standing than a full council resolution, to all 15 members on Tuesday, one U.N. diplomat told AFP.
The statement would again warn President Bashar al-Assad of possible “further measures” if he reneges on a promise to U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan to start implementing Annan’s six-point peace plan.
As many as 65 people have been killed in the violent crackdown by Syrian forces across the country on Monday, Al Arabiya reported citing Syrian activists.
The United States and other western countries have expressed strong doubts that Assad will move to end the year-old crackdown on protesters and opposition groups in which the U.N. says more than 9,000 people have been killed.
“Annan wants a statement by the council on the April 10 deadline, on the U.N. preparing an observer mission if there is a halt in hostilities and on the need to agree a political transition,” said the diplomat.
Statement expected by Thursday
Negotiations could be held on Wednesday and the statement agreed on Thursday if there are no objections, the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity because talks are private.
Work started on the statement after Annan’s briefing to the Security Council on Monday when he revealed details of the April 10 deadline that he says Syria has accepted.
Syria told Annan that its military will withdraw troops and heavy weapons from populated areas by April 10, in what could be a first step toward ending the bloody yearlong conflict, U.N. diplomats said Monday.
If troops and heavy weapons are withdrawn Annan will call on the government and opposition groups to start a full cessation of hostilities 48 hours later, he told the council.
A presidential statement on Syria agreed this month warned of “further measures as appropriate” if Assad did not respond to Annan’s peace plan. The new statement would contain the same warning, though no explicit threat of sanctions which can only go in a full resolution.
Diplomats said they expected tough negotiations with Russia over references to the April 10 deadline. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has spoken out strongly against imposing what he called “artificial” deadlines against Assad.
Russia and China have vetoed two resolutions on Syria. The council statement can only be adopted if there is consensus.
The Security Council was also told that it could take at least two months to get a full mission of about 250 observers into Syria if a ceasefire is declared, another diplomat said.
U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told the council that 100 observer troops could get into Syria in 45 days but the full force would take much longer because of the preparations needed, diplomats said.
Just the first 100 troops would need 40 armored vehicles.
Annan is to send a group of seven experts to Damascus this week to hold talks on the possible mission.
Syrian troops, meanwhile, hunted down activists and destroyed their homes in the country’s rebellious areas, and the United States remained skeptical of Damascus’ latest statements, pointing to previous broken promises. Britain, France, Germany and a number of other countries also questioned whether Assad would keep his word, the diplomats said.
“We have seen commitments to end the violence followed by massive intensifications of violence,” U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said, according to The Associated Press. “So the United States, for one, would look at these commitments and say, yet again, the proof is the actions, not in the words.”
Rice said Annan told the U.N. Security Council he received a letter from Syria’s foreign minister on Sunday with the April 10 date and indicated he would have preferred the pullback to begin earlier. Annan urged the Syrian government to start the withdrawal immediately and move no further into populated areas, and “that commitment was provided,” Rice added.
“Past experience would lead us to be skeptical and to worry that over the next several days rather than a diminution of the violence, we might, yet again, see an escalation of the violence,” said Rice, the current council president. “We certainly hope that is not so. We hope the Syrian authorities will implement the commitments they made without condition or codicils.”
Syria’s U.N. Ambassador Bashar Jaafari said the April 10 deadline was set “by common accord” between Annan and the Syrian government.
Six-point plan to end crisis
Annan’s six-point plan to end Syria’s crisis calls for an immediate withdrawal of troops and heavy military equipment from populated areas, followed by an overall cease-fire — first by government forces and then by opposition fighters — to pave the way for talks by all Syrian parties on a political solution. It includes an immediate daily two-hour halt to fighting so humanitarian aid can reach suffering civilians, and unhindered access for humanitarian groups and the media.
Annan is sending a U.N. peacekeeping team and some staff to Damascus this week to continue preparations for a potential U.N. cease-fire monitoring mission. The joint U.N.-Arab League envoy also was considering borrowing troops from U.N. operations in the Mideast, Rice said, AP reported.
One of the key issues is trying to unite the many different opposition factions under a single umbrella.
Rice said Annan’s deputy, Nasser al-Kidwa, has had “constructive exchanges with the opposition to urge them to cease their operations within 48 hours of a complete cessation of government hostilities.” Al-Kidwa attended a meeting of Syrian opposition groups in Istanbul last week.
Assad accepted Annan’s plan a week ago, but late Friday the Syrian government rejected Annan’s call for the regime to halt violence first.
Annan had appealed for the Syrian authorities to stop military operations first as “the stronger party” in a “gesture of good faith” to the lightly armed opposition.
But Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdessi said Friday the government will not pull tanks and troops from towns and cities engulfed by unrest before life returns to normal there.
That position may have changed, but Syria’s Jaafari said his government expects Annan to get similar commitments from the opposition.