Annan “encouraged” by fragile Syrian cease-fire

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will appeal to the Security Council to authorize "as soon as possible" the deployment of a U.N. monitoring mission in Syria as the country witnessed a rare pause in violence, according to a statement by special emissary Kofi Annan. But Ban cautioned that the cease-fire remained extremely "fragile" and could ...

By
FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images
FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images
FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will appeal to the Security Council to authorize "as soon as possible" the deployment of a U.N. monitoring mission in Syria as the country witnessed a rare pause in violence, according to a statement by special emissary Kofi Annan. But Ban cautioned that the cease-fire remained extremely "fragile" and could unravel in the face of a single gunshot.

"I am encouraged by reports that the situation in Syria is relatively quiet and that the cessation of hostilities appears to be holding," Annan said in a statement. "Syria is apparently experiencing a rare moment of calm on the ground. This is bringing much-needed relief and hope to the Syrian people who have suffered so much for so long in this brutal conflict. This must now be sustained."

Annan, a former U.N. secretary general who serves as the joint representative for the United Nations and the Arab League, said that he hoped the swift deployment of a U.N. mission would "allow us to move quickly to launch a serious political dialogue that will address the concerns and aspirations of the Syrian people."

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will appeal to the Security Council to authorize "as soon as possible" the deployment of a U.N. monitoring mission in Syria as the country witnessed a rare pause in violence, according to a statement by special emissary Kofi Annan. But Ban cautioned that the cease-fire remained extremely "fragile" and could unravel in the face of a single gunshot.

"I am encouraged by reports that the situation in Syria is relatively quiet and that the cessation of hostilities appears to be holding," Annan said in a statement. "Syria is apparently experiencing a rare moment of calm on the ground. This is bringing much-needed relief and hope to the Syrian people who have suffered so much for so long in this brutal conflict. This must now be sustained."

Annan, a former U.N. secretary general who serves as the joint representative for the United Nations and the Arab League, said that he hoped the swift deployment of a U.N. mission would "allow us to move quickly to launch a serious political dialogue that will address the concerns and aspirations of the Syrian people."

Today’s developments elicited a rare expression of optimism among U.N. diplomats who have been frustrated by a pattern of unfulfilled promises by President Bashar al-Assad. They remained skeptical about the Syrian government’s commitment to abide by the cease-fire. "The world is watching, however, with skeptical eyes, since many promises previously made by the government of Syria have not been kept," Ban told reporters in Geneva.

The Syrian government agreed on April 1 to endorse Annan’s six-point peace plan, which called on the Syrian government to halt its use of heavy weapons by April 10, and to begin withdrawing its heavy weapons from urban centers. But Syria intensified its armed assault against several restive cities during the past week, raising concern that the Annan peace plan was on life support.

Bassma Kodmani, spokeswoman for the opposition Syrian National Council, meanwhile, said that the Syria had only "partially observed" the ceasefire, according to Reuters. "There is no evidence of significant withdrawal." But the vague language of Annan’s cease-fire deal, which has no deadline for Syria to complete the withdrawal of government forces, appeared to grant Syria considerable leeway to maintain a military presence in towns linked to the opposition.

Still, Annan believes today’s pause in fighting provides an opportunity to get a U.N. mission into the country to help reinforce the cease-fire, and potentially lead to the implementation of the other elements of the peace plan, including political talks, the release of political prisoners, access for humanitarian aid workers and journalists, and the right to hold peaceful demonstrations. Norwegian Maj. Gen. Robert Mood has been in Damascus for the past week planning the terms of a monitoring mission consisting of about 250 international monitors, mostly recruited from existing U.N. missions in neighboring countries. 

Mood told Norway’s NTB news agency, according to Reuters, that he is "cautiously optimistic" about the prospects for a successful mission. But he cautioned that "Both sides are plagued by a very high degree of mutual suspicion. It’s terribly difficult to cross that abyss."

Follow me on Twitter @columlynch

Colum Lynch was a staff writer at Foreign Policy between 2010 and 2022. Twitter: @columlynch

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.