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US Sees No Renewal of UN Observers in Syria

United Nations observers leaving the U.N. office in Damascus, Syria, as they head to areas where protests have been taking place, May 1, 2012. (Reuters)
United Nations observers leaving the U.N. office in Damascus, Syria, as they head to areas where protests have been taking place, May 1, 2012. (Reuters)
NEW YORK — The mandate for the United Nations observer mission in Syria expires August 19, and the U.S. representative at the United Nations said Thursday that she sees little prospect that the mission will be renewed.

Last month, when the Security Council renewed the observer mission’s mandate for 30 days, it said another renewal would require Syria to end its use of heavy weapons against civilians and a reduction in the fighting.

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador at the United Nations, says it is hard to envision that the conditions set by the council could be met in the time that remains.

“Our view is that that portion of U.N. activity is not able to function as the council had hoped when it was authorized," said Rice. "So that will not continue as far as we’re concerned. We would certainly be willing to entertain other conceptions of a U.N. presence. There will be a country team. There will be a humanitarian presence. Perhaps there will be recommendations that will be more political in nature that we can consider favorably.”

Rice said the United States is open-minded about the appointment of a replacement for the U.N.-Arab League envoy for Syria, Kofi Annan, who is resigning effective August 31. A U.N. spokesman says there has been no decision yet on a replacement.

In a message to a meeting on Syria being held in Iran, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that despite their acceptance of the six-point peace plan endorsed by the Security Council, the Syrian government and the opposition continue to rely on weapons, not diplomacy.

U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky read Ban's message.

“The secretary-general said the primary responsibility for stopping the violence rests with those on the ground," said Nesirky. "A first move by the government is vital as its intransigence and refusal to implement the six-point peace plan has been the greatest obstacle to any peaceful political process, ensuring the distrust of the opposition in proposals for a negotiated transition.”

In his message, Mr. Ban said the opposition should also be more forthcoming in favor of opportunities for a political solution, and he said all sides must protect civilians.

In Washington on Wednesday, White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan said the United States is making sure it is able to do everything possible to advance the interests of peace in Syria and not do anything that would contribute to more violence. Asked whether enforcing a no-fly zone over Syria is an option, Brennan said he did not recall President Barack Obama ever saying that anything is off the table.