Syria "friends" warn Assad time is short to end

Mon Apr 2, 2012 7:18am GMT

By Dominic Evans

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Western and Arab nations warned President Bashar al-Assad not to delay adopting a plan to end a year of bloodshed in Syria and called on peace envoy Kofi Annan to set a timetable for action if the violence continues.

Annan is due to brief the U.N. Security Council on Monday about whether he has seen any progress towards implementing his proposals, which Damascus has accepted but not yet carried out.

After their meeting in Istanbul on Sunday, the "Friends of Syria" said Assad did not have an open-ended opportunity to meet his commitments to Annan, who is seeking a ceasefire, troop withdrawals from cities and access for humanitarian aid.

The group made no mention of arming the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), as advocated by some Gulf Arab states, but said it would "continue to work on additional appropriate measures with a view to the protection of the Syrian people".

Hardline Gulf states are likely to interpret the phrase as a licence to fund, if not arm, the FSA, while the United States and others will see it as allowing supplies of non-lethal equipment to the loosely organised armed opposition to Assad.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said her government was supplying "communications equipment that will help activists organise, evade attacks by the regime and connect to the outside world" and was "discussing with other nations how best to expand this support".

Ministers from the United States, Europe and Arab countries attended the Istanbul meeting but Security Council members China and Russia and Syria's ally Iran were prominent absentees, reflecting the divided international response to Syria's crisis.

"The regime will be judged by its deeds rather than its promises," said a communique issued by representatives of 83 nations in Turkey. It called on Annan "to determine a timeline for next steps, including a return to the U.N. Security Council, if the killing continues".   Continued...

Kofi Annan, joint special envoy for the United Nations and the Arab League, during a news conference at Sheremetyevo International Airport outside Moscow, Russia, March 26, 2012. REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov
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