US calls for greater pressure on Assad

US Secretary of State wants a new United Nations resolution authorising an arms embargo and other stronger measures on Syria if it fails to abide by a UN-backed ceasefire.

Syria and the United Nations signed an agreement yesterday on terms for hundreds of observers to monitor the ceasefire, but Syria only wants UN monitors from Russia, China, India, Brazil and South Africa. Louai Beshara / AFP Photo
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PARIS // The US Secretary of State has called for a new United Nations resolution authorising an arms embargo and other stronger measures on Syria if it fails to abide by a UN-backed ceasefire.

Hillary Clinton spoke yesterday at a meeting of Western and Arab diplomats in Paris. She stopped short of calling for military intervention in Syria but said the time had come to impose more consequential measures.

Her address made clear that the United States has little faith in the success of the ceasefire plan set forth by special envoy Kofi Annan and that it does not want other nations to settle for weak measures or lose focus on the severity of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad's crimes.

Previously, US policy has largely amounted to an acknowledgement that Mr Al Assad is entrenched and that there is little appetite for a foreign military attack to dislodge him. But the UN mandate Mrs Clinton seeks would give backbone to measures to assist Syrian rebels fighting the regime.

The Syrian government's crackdown on an uprising over the past 13 months is estimated to have killed more than 9,000 people.

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said yesterday that Syria was not honouring the ceasefire, which took effect last week, and that violence was escalating in the country.

Still, any attempt to push for UN sanctions could meet resistance from Syria's allies Russia and China, which hold vetoes on the UN Security Council and have already twice shielded the Assad regime from UN penalties.

Mrs Clinton noted that she had laid out the case for Security Council resolve in a meeting earlier yesterday with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov.

At UN headquarters, the deployment of 300 UN ceasefire monitors was in doubt last night with western countries threatening to withdraw support and Damascus quibbling over details.

An advance party of half a dozen UN observers is already in Syria monitoring the country's week-old ceasefire agreement.

Whether the observers' mission can be expanded while violence continues is unclear.

Syria and the United Nations signed an agreement yesterday on terms for hundreds of observers to monitor the ceasefire but the composition of the monitoring force and the observers's use of aircraft remained contentious issues, Mr Ban said.

The United States raised doubts last night that it would support the deployment, saying Damascus had failed to stop the violence and was imposing restrictions on the movements of monitors already on the ground.

Susan Rice, the US ambassador, said Washington was demanding that the Syrian government allow the UN's advance team to immediately visit Homs, scenes of the worst violence in the 13-month uprising. She did not say though that failure for Damascus to do so would doom US support for the mission.

"The advance team must be allowed to go to places like Homs today," she told reporters. "The government must stop its shelling and pull back. The government could do all these things today."

"The council can authorise the full mission tomorrow, but if they can't visit the hot spots ... they won't be effective," Ms Rice said.

While Damascus has said the members of the 300-person monitoring force should be restricted to countries friendly to Syria, Mr Ban told reporters that the make-up of the deployment was ultimately up to the UN.

"We are still discussing it," he told reporters in New York. Syria said it wants UN observers only from Russia, China, India, Brazil and South Africa. The advance team of eight observers is headed by a Moroccan colonel.

Mr Ban also said there was still no agreement on the observers's use of aircraft to patrol the vast stretches of the country where violent clashes have occurred between the armed opposition and the government.

"We need effective means of mobility and the Syrian government should be responsible for providing this," Mr Ban said. "If not, we are willing to provide our own means of [air] transport."

He said discussions on this continue though the Syrian ambassador assured him yesterday that Damascus would provide the observers with helicopters and planes.

In a letter to the Security Council late on Wednesday, Mr Ban said the Syrian government had yet to "fully implement its initial obligations regarding the actions and deployments of its troops and heavy weapons, or to return them to barracks."

Though the level of violence has dropped since a nominal ceasefire went into effect on April 12, "the cessation of armed violence in all its forms is … clearly incomplete," he said.

Despite this, both sides have continued to "express their commitment to a cessation of armed violence" and have agreed to cooperate with the UN observers, he said. The UN monitors, if deployed under favourable conditions, could uphold the commitments of the parties to the ceasefire and to the start of long-term political talks, Mr Ban said.

The Security Council is expected to vote on Mr Ban's recommendations next week, diplomats said. The proposed name of the formal mission is the UN Supervision Mission in Syria, or UNSMIS.