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US Skeptical of Assad Peace Commitments

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (file photo)

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (file photo)

The United States Thursday expressed deep skepticism that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad intends to fulfill commitments made to the Arab League this week to end the country’s political crisis. U.S. officials say there is no sign security forces are pulling back from urban areas.

U.S. officials say they welcome the Arab League attempt to end the political violence in Syria that has claimed more than 3,000 lives since February.

But they say there are no signs the Assad government intends to implement its pledges to withdraw security forces from cities, release political prisoners and hold talks with the opposition.

The Syrian government accepted the so-called road map to a settlement on Wednesday, but news reports said security forces are continuing lethal attacks on protesters with dozens of casualties reported in the central city of Homs, a hotbed of unrest.

At the State Department, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the Assad government appears to have added to what she said is its “long, deep and continuing history of broken promises.”

“Acceptance of the initiative, if it were to actually be implemented, would include all of the following things immediately: stopping the violence, release of the detainees, withdrawal of all elements of the armed forces from populated areas, and immediately allowing free and unfettered access to journalists and to the Arab League monitors that they’ve offered. So that’s that standard by which we will judge this, and we have not seen it yet," said Nuland.

President Assad has made reform offers since the start of the unrest that have largely gone unfulfilled.

Some figures in the Syrian opposition have expressed cautious support for the Arab League initiative, while others say only the president’s resignation can end the conflict.

Journalist and Middle East expert Robin Wright, a senior fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace, says Mr. Assad’s acceptance of the Arab League plan appears thus far to be a ploy to buy time, rather than a serious effort to stem the violence.

“President Assad has no credibility left really, in part because he has been so vicious, so consistently, in so many places, and for so long. But at this point he’s in such trouble that actually to have honored the deal would almost certainly have opened the way for greater displays of dissent against him," said Wright.

Wright said while the Syrian leader may be able to extend his time in office, it is “hard to believe” he can weather the crisis long-term, given what she termed the “extraordinary scope” of dissent at home and sanctions that now include a European embargo on Syrian crude oil imports.

The European Union, which has joined the United States in calling on President Assad to step down, said the Syrian leader needs to quickly and fully follow through on the commitments to the Arab League, and to open the political space for a peaceful transition.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Mr. Assad, who has not kept past promises, must implement the Arab League plan as soon as possible, and that the killing in Syria must stop immediately.