U.N.: It Takes Time To Achieve Results In Syria
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
The United Nations has yet to place blame on anyone for that attack on its convoy yesterday. The incident highlights the challenges facing these unarmed observers. NPR's Michele Kelemen spoke today with the head of U.N. peacekeeping about what his team is hoping to do.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Though the U.N. team was safely evacuated today, the observers had to spend the night under the protection of opposition fighters. Undersecretary General Herve Ladsous says the area was just too dangerous.
HERVE LADSOUS: Those roads are unsafe. There are opposition elements, government elements. There are also third parties on the ground, you know, unknown groups who have been responsible over the last several days for many attacks, explosions. So probably, in hindsight, it was the right decision to stay put.
KELEMEN: Ladsous says for the most part, when U.N. monitors are present in an area, the situation calms down at least temporarily. But they can't be everywhere 24/7 and the plan is for just 300 of them to spread out across Syria.
LADSOUS: Deployment is going extremely fast, I think at a rate which is unprecedented in the United Nations. Yesterday, we had 211 observers on the ground. Today, it should be passing the 250 mark.
KELEMEN: There are also 61 civilian observers who are trying to gain access to detention centers in Syria to investigate widespread reports of torture. The more than year-long conflict in Syria has taken a heavy toll, Ladsous says, with an estimated 10,000 people killed and an untold number injured.
LADSOUS: And we certainly have no idea of the actual number of those who are detained and more often than not, illegally. So this is something on which we are working, but it takes a bit of time to gain traction, you know, and achieve some actual result.
KELEMEN: The Obama administration seems willing to give this time, though some lawmakers say there needs to be a plan B and soon. There's been a lot of talk about setting up safe zones for humanitarian aid or funneling more arms to the opposition. Today, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said the U.S. doesn't think it makes sense to fuel the conflict with more weapons.
VICTORIA NULAND: Our decision is to support the civilian opposition in non-lethal ways. There are other countries who have made other decisions. That's their sovereign decision to make.
KELEMEN: But the idea of Arab states running guns to the Syrian opposition won't change the balance of power in Syria, says Aaron David Miller of the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars.
AARON DAVID MILLER: Rather than whine and complain and pretend that we have an option to change the military balance of power on the cheap, which we don't, we ought to coolly and in a detached way see what we can do, not much, over the long term to weaken the regime.
KELEMEN: It's an uncomfortable position, says Miller, who has advised both Republican and Democratic administrations on the Middle East. He says no one really believes the current international peace plan promoted by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan will work, but no one wants it to fail, either.
MILLER: Nobody - not the United States, not the UN, not the Europeans, not the Arabs - want to call a halt to it because at the end of the day, the emperor will then be perceived to have no clothes.
KELEMEN: And the international community, he says, will be on the hook to do something else. The head of U.N. peacekeeping, Herve Ladsous, is fully aware of these debates. It's one reason he came to Washington to seek more political support.
LADSOUS: I know there are some criticisms, some doubts expressed as to where this will lead, but let me tell you this. There is no other game in town. Nobody has come out with any idea for the time being. The six-point plan of Kofi Annan is the only plan that really exists.
KELEMEN: The head of U.N. peacekeeping acknowledges, though, that his team has a major challenge, observing a cease fire that doesn't exist. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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