U.N.-Arab League mediator Kofi Annan’s deputy told the Security Council on Thursday that the swift deployment of more observers to Syria was needed despite continued risks and persistent violence, council diplomats told Reuters.
A handful of observers have arrived in Syria after the Security Council authorized the deployment of 30 on Saturday. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has outlined plans for an “initial deployment” of up to 300 observers, but this would require further authorization.
Annan’s deputy, Jean-Marie Guehenno, told the 15-nation Security Council that deploying more unarmed military observers “would have a potential to change the political dynamics on the ground,” a diplomat said on condition of anonymity. Other envoys confirmed the remarks.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, president of the Security Council this month, said some council members voiced reservations about rushing to approve an expanded mission and were concerned about the failure of Damascus to halt the violence, return troops to barracks and withdraw heavy weapons.
Syria and the United Nations signed a preliminary agreement on Thursday on the terms of a ceasefire monitoring mission, but the deal skirted the vital issue of air assets, Edmond Mulet, deputy head of the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations, told the council.
Mulet said Syria and the United Nations had agreed to sort out the issue later, though he emphasized that use of aircraft “will be vital to the mission,” a diplomat said.
Syria has dismissed any need for U.N. aircraft, though U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters helicopters and other military hardware would be necessary and this would be discussed more closely with Syrian authorities.
“In view of the vastness of the country and in view of the very limited number of our monitoring team, we will have to have a very efficient and effective means of mobility,” Ban said.
He added that Syria’s U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari had reiterated his government’s determination to provide full support and cooperation to the observer mission, which will be called the U.N. Supervision Mission in Syria, or UNSMIS.
In a letter to the Security Council on Wednesday, Ban said Syria had not fully complied with Annan’s six-point peace plan but still outlined plans to deploy up to 300 observers for three months to supervise a fragile truce between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and opposition fighters seeking to oust him.
Ban said the observers would be deployed incrementally over a period of weeks, in approximately ten locations throughout Syria. He said an earlier U.N. proposal for 250 observers was insufficient.
Ban also said that the freedom of access of the advance monitoring team was imperfect. It was allowed to visit Deraa but not the battle-scarred town of Homs.
Council diplomats said Ban’s and Guehenno’s recommendations were crucial for determining whether conditions were right for deploying a larger monitoring mission to Syria, where Assad’s 13-month assault on pro-democracy demonstrators sparked an uprising that has brought the nation to the brink of civil war.
“The council expressed its willingness to quickly authorize a monitoring mission but we have also set forth the conditions for such a force to deployed … effectively,” Rice said.
“The choice is now with the Syrian government to decide whether or not it will fully end its murderous cycle of violence, allow monitors in Syria under terms that will allow them to operate in safety and to report credibly,” she said.
Council envoys said it would be difficult to reject Annan’s request for a quick augmentation of the advance observer team. But several said there was no point in authorizing a failed mission.
Asked if the council was ready to begin drafting a resolution to authorize a larger observer mission, Rice said, “We’ll see.”
“It will need to be studied and considered in respective capitals and we will continue discussions here in New York,” she said.
“There were a number of members of the council who expressed an eagerness to respond swiftly and affirmatively to the secretary-general’s recommendations.”
Rice said many members of the council had expressed concerns that the conditions laid out as requirements in (Saturday’s) resolution … have not fully been met.”
An earlier Arab League monitoring mission ended in failure and the team pulled out of Syria.
Annan’s plan calls for an end to fighting by government security forces and rebels, withdrawal of heavy weapons from towns, the return of the army to barracks, humanitarian access and dialogue between the government and opposition aimed at a “political transition” for the country.