West moves toward backing more monitors for Syria

But the countries that met in Paris Thursday night are also preparing the ground for more coercive measures – including possible NATO involvement – if the violence in Syria does not stop.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and French foreign minister Alain Juppe meet in Paris to discuss Syria.

Western countries that are skeptical about the prospects for an already-wobbly cease-fire in Syria appear ready to back a United Nations plan to send in hundreds of additional monitors.

But the United States, France, and a dozen other countries that met in Paris Thursday night are also preparing the ground for more coercive measures against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – including possible NATO involvement – if the violence that has already claimed more than 9,000 lives does not stop.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recommended Thursday that the Security Council authorize sending several hundred cease-fire monitors to Syria. They would join the small advance team of observers in the country since a cease-fire was declared last week in the Assad regime’s 13-month-old crackdown on opposition forces.

Mr. Ban says his plan, which would involve sending up to 300 observers for an initial deployment of three months, is “not a decision without risk,” since violence continues. Indeed, reports out of Syria suggest that attacks, including artillery fire by government forces, have ratcheted up following a lull after the cease-fire went into effect. But he says the plan “can contribute to achieving a just peace and political settlement.”

Western countries including the US say they are doubtful the plan will work. But they appear ready to approve the mission as a “last chance” for Mr. Assad to fall in line with a six-point peace plan he agreed to with envoy Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary-general.

Calling Mr. Annan’s plan the “last hope” for resolving the Syrian crisis, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said cease-fire observers “must be deployed fast.” But he also said that he has “absolutely no trust” in the Syrian leader and that any observers would have to have “full freedom” to move around the country as they see fit.

Also speaking at the Paris meeting, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that countries favoring a political transition in Syria, as the Annan plan envisions, are in a “dilemma.” The countries want independent observers in Syria to make the regime accountable for its actions, but they also realize that they could be subjecting those undertaking the mission to violence.

The advance team of monitors who arrived in Syria over the weekend have already been fired on and encountered an angry mob at a pro-regime rally.

In a bid to convince Assad that abiding by the Annan plan is his best option, Western leaders laid out a number of options that could be on the horizon if violence continues and the peace plan fails.

Security Council members, Secretary Clinton said, should already be preparing for the UN body’s most forceful option – what is called a Chapter 7 resolution – to authorize “all means necessary” in the event the Assad regime continues on its violent path. There is little doubt such a resolution would at this point face a veto from Assad supporters on the Council (Russia and China), Clinton said, but she suggested that Assad’s continued undermining of peaceful efforts could alter the climate for Council action.

Clinton also noted that Turkey has expressed growing concern about the situation on its border with Syria and instances of cross-border violence, and it has recently alluded to its option as a NATO member of invoking the alliance’s provision for coming to the defense of a member under siege.

France’s Mr. Juppe reiterated his country’s support for creation of “humanitarian corridors” inside Syria so that the population can find refuge and the political opposition can “exist.”

At the UN in New York, US Ambassador Susan Rice offered a note of caution about calls for quick approval of the full monitoring mission, saying that the Council has already stipulated that the mission should only be deployed “subject to a sustained cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties.”

She then added that Ban, in his letter to the Council recommending the full monitoring mission, acknowledged that “the Syrian government has yet to fully implement its initial obligations regarding the actions and deployments of its troops and heavy weapons or to return them to barracks.”

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