* Rice: Some countries skeptical about Syrian commitments
* Unclear how Russian reacting to Annan's announcement
By Louis Charbonneau and Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS, April 2 U.N.-Arab League envoy
Kofi Annan told the U.N. Security Council on Monday that Syria
has accepted an April 10 deadline for ending military
operations, with the opposition under pressure to cease fighting
within 48 hours of that, envoys said.
But Western diplomats expressed skepticism about the
credibility of Syria, which has repeatedly promised to end
attacks but has pressed ahead with a year-long assault on
anti-government activists that has brought the country to the
brink of civil war.
"Mr. Annan reported that the Syrian Foreign Minister sent
him a letter yesterday in which he said that the Syrian military
will begin immediately and by April 10 will complete the
cessation of all forward deployment and use of heavy weapons and
will complete its withdrawal from population centers," U.S.
Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice told reporters.
Speaking after Annan addressed a closed-door meeting of the
15-nation council via video link, Rice added that Annan's deputy
Nasser al-Kidwa "has also had constructive exchanges with the
opposition to urge them to cease their operations within 48
hours of a complete cessation of government hostilities."
Rice added that several council members had "expressed
concern that the government of Syria not use the next days to
intensify the violence and expressed some skepticism about the
bona fides of the government in this regard."
Syria's Ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Ja'afari,
confirmed that Damascus accepted the April 10 deadline but said
the government wants the opposition on board.
"The Syrian government is committed but we are expecting Mr.
Kofi Annan and some parties in the Security Council also to get
the same kind of commitments from the (opposition)," he told
reporters. "A plan wouldn't be successful unless everybody is
committed to it."
"It's by common accord between our minister and Mr. Kofi
Annan," he said when asked who suggested the April 10 deadline.
CEASEFIRE MONITORING MISSION
So far there has been no sign of Syrian President Bashar
al-Assad keeping his promise to implement Annan's six-point
peace plan, which calls for an end to violence and political
dialogue between the government and opposition aimed at a
"political transition" for the country.
There is "no progress on the ground" so far, a diplomat
inside the meeting told Reuters in a summary of Annan's remarks.
Despite the lack of progress, Annan suggested there may be
the beginnings of a plan to end the year-long conflict and he
urged council members to "begin consideration of deployment of
an observer mission with a broad and flexible mandate," a
Rice said that "in general council members expressed a
willingness to consider Mr. Annan's plan for a monitoring
mission if indeed a cessation of violence is achieved."
The U.N. peacekeeping department has already begun
contingency planning for a U.N. ceasefire monitoring mission
that would have 200 to 250 unarmed observers. Such a mission
would require a Security Council resolution.
It was not immediately clear how Russia was responding to
Annan's suggestions. Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin left the
council without speaking to reporters.
Russia and China vetoed two council resolutions condemning
Assad's assault on pro-democracy demonstrations, which were
inspired by other "Arab Spring" uprisings across the Middle East
and North Africa.
The United Nations says Syrian soldiers and security forces
have killed more than 9,000 people over the past 12 months.
Damascus says rebels have killed 3,000 troops and police.