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Can the US and Russia save the UN cease-fire monitoring mission in Syria?

All signs in Syria seem to point to the demise of Kofi Annan's peace plan, including the UN cease-fire monitoring mission. But Annan is hoping the US and Russia can agree on a new contact group to rescue the plan. 

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Annan has suggested to officials from several countries that he wants the US and Russia, which is Assad’s most critical source of international support, to come to an agreement on the issue of Iran’s participation in a contact group. Secretary Clinton, who is traveling in Europe, plans to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Saint Petersburg Friday, but UN officials say Annan wants a resolution of the Iran dispute before then if the Geneva meeting is to go forward.

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Annan last week defended his call for Iran to take part in a Syria contact group, saying the obvious fissures in the international community on dealing with the Syria crisis were leading to “destructive competition.”

Speaking to reporters in Geneva last week, Annan said, "I have made it quite clear that I believe Iran should be part of the solution. If we continue the way we are going and competing with each other,” he added, “it could lead to destructive competition and everyone will pay the price."

Annan has also proposed that Iraq, Kuwait, Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia participate in the group, along with the five permanent members of the Security Council. Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia are reported to have begun supplying arms to Syria’s rebels, so Annan’s insistence on including Iran is seen by some analysts as an effort to balance the pro-and anti-Assad participants and reassure Russia.

Aside from those countries, Annan has also proposed that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, and Arab League Secretary-General Nabil al-Arabi, take part in the contact group.

A Saturday meeting of Annan’s proposed contact group may not be the make-or-break factor determining whether or not his pulseless peace plan survives, but not having a meeting at all would reinforce perceptions that a deeply divided international community is far from any concerted action on Syria – and the conflict would likely rage on.

The US has already suggested that the UN monitoring mission is unlikely to survive once its initial three-month mandate is up in July.

“If there is no discernible movement by then,” Clinton said in Washington last week, “it would be very difficult to extend a mission that is increasingly dangerous for the observers on the ground.”


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