Canada and other Western allies are still resting their hopes on a shaky ceasefire plan in Syria, with little appetite for stronger action like imposing humanitarian corridors or using military strikes to displace President Bashar al-Assad.
At a hastily convened meeting of the so-called Friends of Syria in Paris, Western and Arab foreign ministers backed the ceasefire plan put forward by UN-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan, even though Mr. Annan and many others acknowledge the al-Assad regime has failed to comply with all of its conditions.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird expressed some hope the six-point Annan plan is having an impact, even if the al-Assad regime was flouting some of its terms.
“We’ve seen a sharp reduction in the violence since a week ago Thursday,” Mr. Baird said in a conference call with reporters. “We are concerned though, that we haven’t seen full compliance. These are not six suggestions, this is not a menu of options. We want to see all six points fully complied with.”
The meeting’s host, France’s Foreign Minister Alain Juppé, said the group believed the plan is the last hope to prevent a civil war in Syria. But the backup plan if the ceasefire fails is not military intervention. Instead, they will take another run at convincing the UN Security Council to act with sanctions.
In Syria, meanwhile, at least four people were killed in ongoing violence, according to a London-based monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. That brings the death toll to 124 since the ceasefire went into effect on April 12, they said.
A small advance team of seven United Nations observers is in Syria, but Mr. Annan and Western leaders are now calling for more than 300. Mr. Baird said that would be the best way to ensure humanitarian aid can be delivered; he said the UN is still examining the parameters of the observer mission and it is unclear if Canadians will take part. Mr. Baird said that would be the best way to ensure humanitarian aid can be delivered. He said the UN is still examining the “skill sets” the observers will need and whether they will be able to do their job safely. He added that it is still unclear if Canadians will take part.
In Paris, the Friends of Syria decided, in effect, to rest hopes on the Annan plan as the only vehicle they have. The United States and other allies fear that military intervention could be difficult and dangerous – and perhaps lead to greater chaos. The opposition to the al-Assad regime is divided between factions, often with links to groups in neighbouring countries, and risks breaking down along sectarian lines that could spark regional war, they fear.
Mr. Baird made clear that Canada has no plans for any military mission on the drawing board – and the 15 other ministers at the meeting did not raise the idea, either.
“We’re not looking at any sort of military mission in Syria. That’s something that has not been considered,” he said. “The ministers today did not discuss any sort of military engagement.”
In fact, most of the nations are cool to dramatic interventions, even though French President Nicolas Sarkozy called for the creation of humanitarian corridors to provide refuge and deliver aid – zones that would have to be created and enforced by foreign military unless the al-Assad regime allows them. But Mr. Sarkozy is trailing in a presidential election campaign and representatives of other countries did not echo his call for more dramatic steps.
Mr. Juppé’s warnings that the Annan plan represent the last hope of avoiding civil war did not come with a clear plan for international intervention if the ceasefire scheme unravels completely.
Western nations indicated they will seek again to have the UN Security Council impose sanctions on Syria, apparently hoping that Russia, which so far has blocked such moves, would feel forced to agree if the Annan plan collapses. Russia heavily backed the Annan plan as an alternative to sanctions and military action – and if the plan fails, it will face new pressure to support a UN condemnation of its Syrian ally.