Last Updated: Fri Mar 16, 2012 20:56 pm (KSA) 17:56 pm (GMT)

Annan urges U.N. council to break deadlock, says to send technical team to Syria

U.N.-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan is pushing for a ceasefire and political dialogue between the Syrian government and opposition. (Reuters)
U.N.-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan is pushing for a ceasefire and political dialogue between the Syrian government and opposition. (Reuters)

The U.N.-Arab League envoy on the Syrian crisis, Kofi Annan, urged the Security Council to overcome its deadlock and unify in support of his efforts to end the violence that has brought Syria to the brink of civil war, U.N. diplomats said on Friday.

Addressing a closed-door meeting of the 15-nation council via video link, Annan said the stronger their message is in support of his efforts to negotiate a ceasefire, the greater his chances will be of securing an end to the fighting, council diplomats told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Annan said he was disappointed by President Bashar al-Assad’s response to ideas for ending the bloodshed in Syria, and appealed to the U.N. to unite in its bid to halt the conflict.

“The stronger and more unified your message, the better chance we have of shifting the dynamics of the conflict,” Annan was quoted as telling the 15-nation U.N. Security Council, according to AFP.

He also told the council he was sending a mission to Damascus next week to discuss putting monitors in place even though he has had a “disappointing response” so far to his proposals from Assad, diplomats said.

He added that Annan suggested to council members that Damascus’ response to his 6-point peace proposal has been disappointing so far. But Annan’s team is continuing to talk with the Syrian government, an envoy told Reuters, summarizing Annan’s remarks.

Annan is pushing for a ceasefire and political dialogue between government and opposition.

Annan also said in his message that unified pressure from the Security Council on Syria has succeeded in the past, such as when it pressed Damascus to withdraw forces from neighboring Lebanon, envoys said. That withdrawal was completed in 2005.

Speaking to reporters in Geneva after the briefing, Annan said: “I hope pretty soon that you will be hearing one voice from the council.”

Syria’s U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari told reporters that a technical team from Annan’s office would arrive in Damascus on Sunday.

“Wait until Sunday and you will have good news,” he said without giving details. He added that a “comprehensive political process” was underway.

Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, president of the Security Council this month, told reporters that “all members of the Security Council pledged their full support (for Annan) and agreed that a united message from the Security Council would help his mission.”

He added that consultations on a draft resolution continued. Discussions on the draft resolution include the permanent veto-wielding council members - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States - and Morocco, the sole Arab council member.

Asked if Annan’s briefing improved prospects for ending the council’s deadlock on Syria that has prevented it from taking action for more than half a year, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice told reporters: “I think it's way too soon to know.”

Sending technical mission to Syria

Annan’s spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, speaking in Geneva, confirmed the plans for a mission to the Syrian capital.

“Mr Annan has decided to send a mission to Damascus to discuss modalities of a monitoring mechanism and practical steps to implement other issues in Mr Annan’s proposals, including an immediate cessation of the violence and the killing,” Fawzi said.

On the ground, thousands of anti-regime protesters Friday called for foreign military intervention to bring down the Syrian government. And the Syrian Observatory said at least 40 people were killed around the country on Friday.

The Syrian foreign ministry said in Damascus the government has vowed to cooperate with Annan, the special U.N. and Arab League envoy, while at the same time fighting “terrorism,” its term for Syria’s anti-regime revolt.

The government is “determined to protect its citizens by disarming the terrorists and continues to search for a peaceful solution to the crisis by cooperating with special envoy Kofi Annan,” it said in a letter addressed to the United Nations, carried by state news agency SANA.

It also called “on all countries and organizations which combat terrorism... to apply pressure on all known parties to stop their support for terrorism and to halt the bloodshed” in Syria.

Russia and China have twice vetoed Security Council resolutions condemning the government of Assad for his year-long attempts to crush pro-democracy demonstrations. The United Nations says Assad’s assault on protesters has killed over 8,000 civilians.

Negotiations on a third draft resolution -- this time penned by the United States and calling for a ceasefire and humanitarian access for aid agencies -- have stalled over disagreements about who in Syria should be the first to stop fighting and who is to blame for the conflict.

Assad says that the opposition must stop fighting first, while the United States, Gulf Arabs and Europeans say Assad and his much-stronger army must make the first move. Russia says both sides should stop firing their weapons simultaneously.

Russia also wants both sides to share equal blame for the conflict, a position Western and Arab nations also reject.

Western diplomats said they would decide whether and how quickly to press ahead with a third resolution after Annan’s briefing to the council.

Russia and China have said repeatedly that they believe Western and Gulf Arab countries want Libya-style regime change in Syria, a country that has close ties to Moscow and hosts Russia's only warm-water naval port outside the former Soviet Union. Moscow and Beijing say they oppose regime change there.

The United Nations and Organization of Islamic Cooperation are this weekend to send experts on a Syrian government-led humanitarian mission to the protest cities of Homs, Deraa and Hama where thousands have reportedly been killed.

U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos stressed “it is increasingly vital that humanitarian organizations have unhindered access to identify urgent needs and provide emergency care and basic supplies. There is no time to waste.”

The United Nations estimates more than 30,000 Syrians have fled to neighboring states and another 200,000 have been displaced within the country by the violence.

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