WASHINGTON The United States has serious concerns about an Arab League monitoring mission designed to halt Syria's crackdown on anti-government protests and does not believe Damascus is ready to fulfill the terms of the Arab-backed peace deal, the U.S. State Department said on Tuesday.
"The Syrian regime has not lived up to the full spectrum of commitments that it made to the Arab League when it accepted its proposal some nine weeks ago," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told a news briefing.
"For example, the violence hasn't stopped. Far from it," Nuland said, citing independent reports of dozens of new deaths in Syria since December 31.
The Arab League said on Monday its monitors in Syria were helping to stem bloodshed, 10 months into a popular uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, and asked for more time to do their job.
But since the team's arrival last week, security forces have killed more than 132 people, according to a Reuters tally. Other activist groups say 390 have been killed.
The monitors are checking whether Syria is implementing an Arab League peace plan by pulling troops from flashpoint cities and releasing thousands detained in the revolt, among a series of Arab uprisings that have toppled four leaders in a year.
The Obama administration's top diplomat for the Middle East, Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman, was due to travel to Cairo for talks ahead of an Arab League ministerial meeting on Saturday called to discuss Syria, Nuland said.
"We support their efforts to ensure that this mission is credible, is effective, if it's going to continue to go forward," she said.
The League mission has already been plagued by controversy. Protesters have complained about its small size and were appalled when the head of the mission suggested he was reassured by first impressions of Homs, one of the main centers of unrest.
The United States was concerned by reports that in some cases Syrian military forces were putting on police uniforms to mask their actions, Nuland said.
"In some cases the regime is actually putting out its own false reports that monitors are on the way, demonstrators come into the streets, and then they fire on them," she said.
Nuland said the United States would continue to consult both with Syria's nascent opposition groups and its allies on possible next steps in the crisis, which the United Nations estimates has killed more than 5,000 people since Assad launched the crackdown.
But with Syria's armed rebels threatening to step up attacks on Assad's forces, Nuland underscored Washington's repeated warning that an escalation of violence would only exacerbate the problem.
"That's exactly what the regime wants ...to make Syria more violent and have an excuse to retaliate itself," she said.
(Reporting By Andrew Quinn; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)