Annan: Syria to pull back troops by April 10
In this Sunday, April 1, 2012 photo, Free Syrian Army fighters are seen in a neighborhood of Damascus, Syria. Government and opposition forces clashed across Syria Monday as international envoy Kofi Annan prepared to brief the U.N. Security Council on the progress of his mission to ease the Syrian crisis. / AP Photo
(CBS/AP) UNITED NATIONS - International envoy Kofi Annan told the U.N. Security Council on Monday that Syria informed him its military will complete the withdrawal of troops and heavy weapons from populated areas by April 10.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said Annan received a letter from Syria's foreign minister on Sunday with the April 10 date and indicated he would have preferred an earlier deadline. She said Annan urged the Syrian government to start the withdrawal immediately and move no further into populated areas, and "that commitment was provided."
Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'fari said the April 10 deadline was set "by common accord" between Annan and the Syrian government, and he again pledged his government's complete support for Annan's six-point plan to end the yearlong Syrian crisis.
But Rice, the current Security Council president, expressed skepticism about Syria's commitment, saying that Damascus has made and broken promises over many months.
"We have seen commitments to end the violence followed by massive intensifications of violence," Rice said. "So the United States, for one, would look at these commitments and say, yet again, the proof is the actions, not in the words."
She added: "Past experience would lead us to be skeptical and to worry that over the next several days rather than a diminution of the violence, we might, yet again, see an escalation of the violence. We certainly hope that is not so. We hope the Syrian authorities will implement the commitments they made without condition or codicils."
Given the skepticism, the Security Council was making contingency plans if Annan's deadline is not met, including sanctions and other more aggressive measures, reports CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pam Falk. But getting anything through the Security Council will still rely on China and Russia, who have twice protected Assad's regime from censure by the Council.Watch U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton discussed diplomatic efforts to aid Syria's rebels and stop Assad's violent crackdown.
Annan's plan to end Syria's crisis calls for an immediate withdrawal of troops and heavy military equipment from populated areas, followed by an overall cease-fire first by government forces and then by opposition fighters to pave the way for talks by all Syrian parties on a political solution. It includes an immediate daily two-hour halt to fighting so humanitarian aid can reach suffering civilians, and unhindered access for humanitarian groups and the media.
Rice stressed that the Syrian agreement was just on the pullout of troops and equipment from cities and towns.
She said Annan is expecting details from the Syrian government "very shortly" on the other aspects of the plan.
One of the key issues is trying to unite the many different opposition factions under a single umbrella.
Rice said Annan's deputy, Nasser Al-Kidwa, has had "constructive exchanges with the opposition to urge them to cease their operations within 48 hours of a complete cessation of government hostilities."
Annan's plan is one of several international pushes to end the Syrian government's violent crackdown on its own people.
On Monday, more than 70 countries, including the United States, pledged to send millions of dollars and communications equipment to opposition groups inside Syria, signaling a growing belief that diplomacy and sanctions alone will not end the repression and push Assad from power.
"The goal is to help the opposition communicate with itself, communicate with the outside world, to help it to organize better and to help it have better situational awareness so it can evade a regime attack," U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said Monday.
Nuland wouldn't get into specific details, saying it would "defeat the purpose" of providing aid to the rebels, but said the U.S. had a "pretty modest program" in place already that "will now be expanding ... in scope."
Participants at the international diplomatic conference in Istanbul on Sunday said Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries are creating a fund to pay Syrian rebels fighters known as the Free Syrian Army and soldiers who defect from the regime. One delegate described the fund as a "pot of gold" to undermine Assad's army.
Participants confirmed the Gulf plan on condition of anonymity because details were still being worked out. One said the fund would involve several million dollars a month. It is said to be earmarked for salaries, but it was not clear whether there would be any effort to prevent the money from being used to buy arms, an issue that could prompt stronger accusations of military meddling.
Anti-regime activists inside Syria welcomed the news, while worrying that the aid would be too little, too late.
"This is what we have been asking for, but if they had decided to do this months ago, we could have avoided a large number of martyrs," said Fadi al-Yassin from the northern province of Idlib. "We know that there is no way to topple the regime without force."
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