Plug likely to be pulled on U.N. observers in Syria: France

UNITED NATIONS Thu Aug 2, 2012 5:51pm EDT

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The Security Council will most likely not renew the mandate of the U.N. observer mission in Syria later this month, which would require it to pull out of the conflict-torn country, France's envoy to the United Nations said on Thursday.

"I think the mission will disappear on the 19th of August," French Ambassador Gerard Araud, president of the Security Council this month, told reporters. The mandate of the U.N. mission in Syria, known as UNSMIS, expires on that date.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin criticized Araud for declaring UNSMIS effectively dead and made clear Moscow would "strongly urge the secretary-general (Ban Ki-moon) to continue with the monitoring component" of UNSMIS after August 19.

In order for the monitors to remain in Syria after August 19, the council would have to adopt a new resolution to that effect. Araud made clear it was difficult to imagine the council reaching agreement to do so.

Ban is expected to deliver a report next week to the 15-nation council with recommendations regarding the future of UNSMIS. U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told reporters on Thursday that Ban would likely recommend that some kind of reconfigured U.N. presence remain in Syria after August 19, though he gave no details.

Given international mediator Kofi Annan's decision to step down at the end of the month, which was announced on Thursday, U.N. diplomats said the prospects for securing a diplomatic solution and a truce that could be monitored by UNSMIS were not good.

The U.N. Security Council extended the three-month mandate of the U.N. observer mission in Syria for another 30 days last month. It will decide in a few weeks whether to extend it again.

Araud said the situation on the ground in Syria would have to improve significantly in order for the council to reach an agreement that would keep UNSMIS in place.

Some Western diplomats say they are loath to keep the mission in Syria given that there is no truce for the observers to monitor and neither side in the conflict appears to want a diplomatic solution to the crisis. The United States, they said, was most eager to end the mission's mandate.

The European Union humanitarian affairs commissioner, Kristalina Georgieva, said on Wednesday that UNSMIS' presence had been beneficial for aid delivery.

DIVISIONS 'AS GREAT AS EVER'

Araud described the Security Council as "irreconcilably deadlocked" on the issue of Syria because two of the five permanent veto-wielding members were too far apart in their views for the council to reach an agreement. He did not name the two states, but it was clear he meant Russia and the United States.

Russia, along with China, has vetoed three resolutions on Syria that would have condemned the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and threatened it with possible sanctions.

"The divisions are as great as ever," Araud said. "We can predict a clash."

"The Security Council is deadlocked," he added. "Three vetoes enable us to say that."

The United States and Britain suggested it was Russia and China that undermined Annan's peace efforts by vetoing attempts to pressure Assad to halt his 17-month crackdown against an increasingly militarized opposition determined to oust him. Assad's ally Russia said it was the Western powers that undermined Annan.

UNSMIS' 300 unarmed observers, whose role had been to monitor a failed April 12 ceasefire in Syria brokered by Annan, suspended most activities on June 16 because of increased risk from rising violence. Half of the monitors have already pulled out, but diplomats said there were over 72 civilian staff working on a political solution and monitoring rights problems.

(Editing by Peter Cooney and Jackie Frank)

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