posted on WED 11 APR 2012 4:55 PM
Briefing by Special Envoy for Syria

Tomorrow morning (12 April) Council members are scheduled to hear from the Joint UN-Arab League Special Envoy for Syria, Kofi Annan, on progress made on the cessation of violence by both the Syrian government and the opposition elements. It appears that the government of President Bashar Al-Assad yesterday wrote to Annan indicating that it would “cease all military fighting throughout Syrian territory” by 6 am local time Thursday (12 April). (The original timeline called for the Syrian government to withdraw its military from population centres by 10 April and for the opposition to undertake similar measures within 48 hours but Annan, in a letter to the Council on 10 April asked for the government’s deadline to be moved to 12 April.)

Yesterday (10 April) Council members spoke with Deputy Joint Special Envoy, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, by video-link. It appears that Council members had a number of questions arising from Annan’s letter (S/2012/206) which had just been circulated to them. It seems that there were also questions about the possible future monitoring mission and the UN technical team which went to Damascus on 5 April (S/2012/199).

Following the briefing some Council members were keen to have a press statement but it seems that others would have required approval from capitals, delaying any Council response. As a result it was decided that the US, as president for the month of April, would convey the views of the Council through remarks to the press. Council members highlighted two points from Annan’s letter. Firstly, that “the Syrian leadership should now seize the opportunity to make a fundamental change of course” and provide, within the next 48 hours, “visible signs of immediate and indisputable change in the military posture” of its forces throughout the country in line with point 2, items (a), (b) and (c) of the six-point plan. The members of Council also called on the opposition to abide by their commitments and “give no excuse” for the government to renege on its obligations. Secondly, Council members wished to underscore that they too were “deeply concerned at the state of implementation of the Syrian Government’s immediate obligations” and wanted to underline the importance that the parties meet the deadline of 12 April.

At press time, most members are waiting for tomorrow’s briefing and Annan’s assessment of the situation on the ground, particularly if the six-point plan can proceed as agreed before making any decisions regarding next steps for the Council. Some members are also waiting for any signs coming from the margins of the meeting of foreign ministers taking place today in Washington DC in preparation for the G8 Summit in Chicago in May.

While there is still broad support for Annan’s mediation efforts, there is skepticism over the Syrian government’s sincerity in adhering to its commitments. Some Council members are concerned that even if there is a ceasefire, troops and heavy weapons may not be fully withdrawn. A related issue that might concern Council members is that while the Syrian government in principle agreed in its 11 April letter to Annan to cease military fighting, it nevertheless reserved the right to respond proportionately to any attacks carried out by armed terrorist groups against civilians, government forces or public and private property.

While the 5 April presidential statement (S/PRST/2012/10) indicated that the Council would consider further steps as appropriate, it is unclear what these steps would be. Although imposing sanctions is an option in case of non-compliance, the divide in the Council over this issue, let alone their nature and scope, would make it difficult to agree quickly on such a course.

If the ceasefire and implementation of the six-point plan gain traction, the next step for the Council would be to mandate a monitoring mechanism. The 5 April presidential statement asked for options for a supervision mechanism to be presented as soon as possible. It is likely that a further briefing focusing on possible options and the findings of the technical assessment mission would be needed before the Council can make any decisions on the monitoring mission’s mandate.

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