Assad’s Acceptance of UN Plan Will Be Tested by Actions

Joint United Nations-Arab League Envoy Kofi Annan
Joint United Nations-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan. Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

Western diplomats cast doubt on whether Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will deliver on his acceptance of United Nations envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan.

The violence continued with opposition groups reporting 70 people killed yesterday, as the special Mideast coordinator for the UN said the death toll from a year of unrest exceeds 9,000.

“We will judge Assad’s sincerity and seriousness by what he does, not by what he says,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said yesterday. “If he is ready to bring this dark chapter in Syria’s history to a close, he can prove it by immediately ordering regime forces to stop firing and begin withdrawing from populated areas.”

Hours after Annan received a letter of agreement from Assad’s government yesterday, ambassadors from the UN Security Council spoke about the six-point peace plan, which includes demands for a UN-supervised cease-fire, secure access for humanitarian missions and a Syrian-led transition to democracy. Annan, who is scheduled to brief the council April 2, called on Assad to put his plan “into immediate effect.”

“We have to remain cautious,” Germany’s ambassador to the UN, Peter Wittig, told reporters. “Syria has in the past a history of credibility gaps.” Gerard Araud, the French envoy, said that when trusting Assad’s word, the “proof of the pudding is in the eating.”

9,000 Dead

Efforts to resolve the yearlong conflict have so far failed, with Russia and China twice blocking resolutions in the 15-member council against Assad, whose battle to preserve his family’s four-decade hold on power has killed more than 9,000 Syrians, according to the estimate yesterday by Robert Serry, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters on a flight from Seoul to Tehran that he doesn’t believe Assad will implement the Annan plan, Hurriyet reported today. During a meeting in the South Korean capital, Turkey’s premier also pressed Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to help end the violence in Syria, according to the Istanbul-based newspaper.

Erdogan arrived in Tehran today for talks with top Iranian officials that will include discussions on the Persian Gulf country’s nuclear program, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

Political Prisoner Release

In Washington, Clinton told reporters that Assad should fulfill all elements of Annan’s plan, which includes allowing international aid workers unfettered access, releasing political prisoners, permitting the international news media unobstructed access and beginning a “legitimate political process that leads to a democratic transition.”

If that happens, she said, Annan has pledged to work with the regime’s opponents “so that there won’t be violence coming from opposition forces.”

Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague also expressed doubts about Assad’s intentions. “We will continue to judge the Syrian regime by its practical actions, not by its often-empty words,” he said in an e-mailed statement.

Morocco’s UN Ambassador Mohammed Loulichki, currently the only Arab representative on the council, said he hoped “this will be the beginning of some dynamic that will trigger good news.”

“It’s a step forward,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said in a Twitter message. “Now it’s the opposition’s turn.”

Intense Campaign

Opposition reports from Syria say that government forces killed 70 people in continuing fighting yesterday. That included 40 in the northwestern opposition stronghold of Idlib and five in the suburbs of Damascus, according to the Local Coordination Committees, an opposition group.

Assad promised in a visit to the district of Baba Amr in Homs that the residential area, which witnessed an intense military campaign, will be rebuilt. The Syrian leader was shown on state television ordering swift work to restore normality in the city.

Assad may eventually be forced to stand down, Annan told reporters on March 26 in Moscow, “but it’s not up to me, it’s up to the Syrians.” Medvedev said it’s “shortsighted” to think that ousting Assad will resolve the country’s problems.

Russia won’t take part in an April 1 meeting in Istanbul of Western and Arab nations on Syria, Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich told reporters in Moscow yesterday. The self-described Friends of Syria group has urged stronger international efforts to support Annan’s mission.

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