Syria is ready to let Arab monitors extend their mission beyond this week, an Arab League source said, but US President Barack Obama said he was looking to increase international pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step aside.
Damascus opposes broadening the scope of the Arab League observer mission, the source at the league said, but would accept a one-month extension of its mandate that expires today.
UN officials say more than 5,000 people have been killed in the violence across Syria, where pro-Assad forces are trying to crush peaceful protests and armed rebels.
The government says 2,000 members of its security forces have died.
“Unfortunately we’re continuing to see unacceptable levels of violence inside that country,” Obama said in Washington after meeting Jordan’s King Abdullah.
“We will continue to consult very closely with Jordan to create the kind of international pressure and environment that encourages the current Syrian regime to step aside,” Obama added.
The Arab League must decide whether to withdraw its 165 monitors or keep them in Syria, even though they are expected to report that Damascus has not fully implemented a peace plan agreed on Nov. 2. Arab foreign ministers are set to discuss the team’s future on Sunday.
“The outcome of the contacts that have taken place over the past week between the Arab League and Syria have affirmed that Syria will not reject the renewal of the Arab monitoring mission for another month,” the league source said.
“If the Arab foreign ministers call for this at the coming meeting,” the source said.
The Arab plan required Syria to halt the bloodshed, withdraw troops from cities, free detainees, provide access for the monitors and the media and open talks with opposition forces.
The league source said Beijing and Moscow had urged Assad to accept an extension of the monitoring mission to avert an escalation at the international level.
Meanwhile, in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday defended Russia’s trade with Syria amid growing controversy over a mysterious shipment that reportedly delivered a supply of arms to Damascus.
Lavrov was asked to address criticism from US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice that followed reports that the shipment brought munitions to Assad’s forces amid their crackdown on protesters.
“I even heard that Susan Rice was requesting some clarification,” Lavrov told reporters at an annual briefing outlining Russia’s foreign policy views.
“We do not feel we have to explain or justify anything because we are not violating any international agreements or UN Security Council resolutions,” he said.
“We are only trading items with Syria that are not banned by international law,” he said without explicitly confirming that the Chariot charter craft was carrying arms.
The ship docked a Russian-leased Syrian port last week after making an unscheduled stopover in Cyprus and then pledging to Cypriot authorities that the craft would travel to Turkey instead.
The Chariot then left Cyprus and headed for Syria’s port at Tartus that this month was also visited by a Russian naval flotilla.