The UN-backed Syria peace plan is failing, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, casting doubt on the prospects for stopping the bloodshed soon.
Citing the Syrian government’s attacks on civilians and its failure to withdraw heavy weapons from population centers, Nuland yesterday blamed President Bashar al-Assad for the fact that “the plan as a whole is failing.” She said it’s still essential to deploy as many as 300 unarmed UN cease-fire observers in the effort to limit the violence.
The peace plan “is failing thus far because Assad has not met the obligations that he has made to Kofi Annan,” the UN and Arab League special envoy who brokered the cease-fire agreement, Nuland said in Washington. If that continues, the U.S. and allies anticipate putting further pressure on the regime by seeking a travel ban, additional financial sanctions and an arms embargo at the UN Security Council, she said.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told reporters in New Delhi yesterday that despite Syria’s repeated commitments to end the violence, “killings continue without relent; shelling and explosions in residential areas go on.” An advance contingent of 15 UN observers has reported heavy weapons in populated areas in violation of the agreement, he said.
“The continued repression of the civilian population is totally unacceptable,” Ban said.
Since the UN Security Council agreed April 21 to deploy cease-fire observers, more than 260 people have died in the violence, according to the website of the opposition Local Coordination Committees. At least 28 people were killed in Syria April 26, said the group, which says that at least 534 people have been killed since the April 12 announcement of the cease- fire brokered by Annan.
Syrian Government Blamed
“It remains our assessment that the bulk of the violations of the cease-fire pledge are coming from the regime side,” Nuland said. “There is ample evidence of continued artillery fire, continued attacks, opposition activists being rounded up the minute that the UN monitors leave the site, et cetera.”
Responsibility is “laid at Assad’s doorstep that he has not silenced his guns, and therefore we don’t have peace in Syria,” she said.
The Obama administration will ramp up pressure on the Syrian leaders “and encourage them in the strongest possible terms to live up to the obligations and commitments that they made in the context of the Kofi Annan plan,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said yesterday.
Pentagon Drafts Options
Pentagon officials are drawing up plans in the event that President Barack Obama decides to pursue military options in Syria, Kathleen Hicks, an administration nominee to the Defense Department’s policy staff, told the Senate Committee on Armed Services April 26.
Both she and Derek Chollet, the president’s nominee to be assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, said in their testimony April 26 that the Annan plan is “failing.”
“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,” said Hicks, the nominee to be principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy.
The U.S., Turkey and other allies have discussed creating a civilian aid corridor along the Turkish border with Syria as one option if the fighting continues.
In the meantime, the Obama administration will continue to use economic sanctions and diplomacy to pressure the Assad regime, Chollet said.
“What is obvious and indisputable is that the Kofi Annan plan has failed,” Senator John McCain said at the hearing. The Arizona Republican, who recently visited refugee camps on Turkey’s border with Syria, said it is a “shameful situation” that civilians “are being slaughtered” by the Syrian regime.
“We are talking about economic sanctions and diplomatic sanctions when we should be helping these people as we helped the people of Bosnia, as we helped in Libya, and we’ve helped in other times in our history,” said McCain, who advocates arming the opposition.
Opposition groups reported anti-regime demonstrations in Homs, Idlib and elsewhere around the country following Friday prayers. Four people were killed by security forces, the Local Coordination Committees said on its website. The state-run SANA news agency said a suicide bomber detonated his explosives belt as worshipers were leaving the Zein al-Abidin Mosque in Damascus, killing nine people including government security personnel.
The UN, which has no standing military force of its own, must ask member states for observers to staff the mission. The monitors currently deployed are from Morocco, Brazil, Argentina, Finland, Belgium, Norway, Russia, Switzerland, Sweden, China and Ghana, Andre-Michel Essoungou, a spokesman for the UN’s Peacekeeping Operations office, said April 26.
Nuland said yesterday that the UN is having success in recruiting monitors and is “vetting a large number of volunteers now.” She estimated that it may take another three to four weeks to deploy 100 of the anticipated 300.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe have raised the possibility of asking the UN to impose demands and further sanctions on Syria that could be enforced militarily under Chapter 7 of the UN charter, which was invoked in the case of Libya.
Chapter 7 Sanctions
Further actions under a Chapter 7 resolution may include travel sanctions, further financial sanctions and an arms embargo, Nuland said yesterday. She didn’t say whether the U.S. expects Russia would be willing to withhold its veto of such action.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said yesterday he “strongly condemns” the actions of the Syrian regime and NATO is monitoring the situation closely. He said at a Rome press conference that NATO has no intention of intervening in Syria, adding that “other solutions are more appropriate.”
The head of the Arab League, Nabil el-Arabi, said Arab foreign ministers have asked him to convene a meeting of all the Syrian opposition factions on May 16, according to the Al Jazeera television channel.
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