Middle East

Deep Skepticism Persists Over Cease-Fire In Syria

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Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan briefed the Security Council on the tenuous ceasefire that took hold in Syria early on Thursday. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with the foreign minister of Russia which has been the main backer of the Bashar Assad regime since the uprising began 13 months ago.


More now on that difficult and crucial task. Diplomats at the United Nations are trying to get UN observers into Syria. There is, obviously, deep skepticism about the ceasefire. But as envoy Kofi Annan pointed out this week, there are few other real options besides pushing hard to implement his peace plan. NPR's Michele Kelemen explains why that has proven so tough diplomatically.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Soon after the ceasefire went into effect, the joint UN and Arab League envoy, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, briefed the members of the Security Council via video conference and urged them to take steps quickly to approve a UN observer mission for Syria. The current secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, says the council needs to be united.

SECRETARY GENERAL BAN KI-MOON: As of this moment, the situation looks calmer. We are following it very closely. The world is watching, however, with skeptical eyes, since many promises previously made by the government of Syria have not been kept.

KELEMEN: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed that at the State Department today, saying the violence may have abated but the Syrian government has not met other aspects of Kofi Annan's plan. Tanks and troops are still within firing range of cities and there's no indication Syria will allow in journalists or humanitarian aid.

HILLARY CLINTON: The Annan plan is not a menu of options. It is a set of obligations. The burden of fully and visibly meeting all of these obligations continues to rest with the regime. They cannot pick and choose.

KELEMEN: She consulted today with several of her counterparts, including from Russia, which vetoed two previous Security Council resolutions on Syria. Now the Russians look poised to support a resolution that would send in monitors to support Annan's plan. Russia's ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, predicts an advance team of 20 to 30 monitors could be there early next week.

VITALY CHURKIN: It's crucial for the monitors to be on the ground to make sure that any transgressions of the current state of end of violence is going to be detected.

KELEMEN: But the U.S. and Russia are not exactly on the same page. Churkin says he's worried about opposition calls for new rallies and says that could provoke more violence in the country.

CHURKIN: Instead of talking about, you know, demonstrations, opposition leaders must finally formulate their attitude towards political dialogue.

KELEMEN: Contrast that with Secretary Clinton, who says it's mainly up to Bashar al-Assad's regime to comply with Annan's plan.

CLINTON: The regime's war against its own people must end for good and a political transition must begin. Assad will have to go and the Syrian people must be given the chance to chart their own future.

KELEMEN: For now, Annan's plan is the only realistic option on the table, says Asli Bali, a visiting scholar at Princeton and an acting professor of law at UCLA. She says there's been a, quote, "lamentable tendency to treat the idea of negotiations as a concession," and thinks Assad and his supporters, like Russia, need to be brought into the solution.

ASLI BALI: The reason that we haven't seen them do more is we're basically asking them to put tremendous pressure on one of their own allies in the region and give up some degree of influence in the Middle East. And so, of course, the Russians are loathe to do that. Having said that, they seem to have genuinely run out of patience for Assad and I think there's probably a great deal more promise that they might be willing to cooperate with a Western strategy today than they were, say, two weeks ago.

KELEMEN: Bali co-authored an op-ed in the New York Times this week raising concerns about the calls for safe zones or arming the Syrian opposition. Bali says that would mean committing military force and ensuring that Syria becomes a proxy war for countries seeking influence in the region and would do little in the end to protect people. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

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