Assad’s pledge “must now be matched by immediate action,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters in Washington.
“We will judge Assad’s sincerity and seriousness by what he does, not by what he says,” Clinton said. “If he is ready to bring this dark chapter in Syria’s history to a close, he could prove it by immediately ordering regime forces to stop firing and begin withdrawing from populated areas.”
The announcement was made in Beijing, where Annan held meetings with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and said afterward that his plan had China’s full support. The U.N. Security Council endorsed the plan last week, and Annan said Russia, another strong ally of Syria, had agreed over the weekend to back it.
The six-point proposal calls for Assad to work with Annan in an “inclusive, Syrian-led political process” to address the aspirations of the Syrian people.
It demands an end to the government’s crackdown on the opposition, which launched its protests peacefully but now includes armed elements, and calls for the implementation of an unspecified U.N. mechanism to halt violence on both sides. Other demands include a daily two-hour cease-fire to facilitate humanitarian work, the release of prisoners and access for journalists.
Annan submitted the plan during a visit to Damascus, the Syrian capital, this month. His spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, said implementation of the proposal “will be key, not only for the Syrian people, who are caught in the middle of this tragedy, but also for the region and the international community as a whole.”
China’s and Russia’s support for the plan may have helped persuade Assad to embrace it. The two countries twice rejected proposed U.N. resolutions criticizing Syria, saying they were not balanced and did not condemn violence by the rebels.
A Paris-based member of the opposition Syrian National Council said it welcomed the Assad government’s decision, the Associated Press reported. “We hope that we can move toward a peace process,” Bassma Kodmani told the wire service.
But other activists greeted the news with skepticism, noting that the Syrian government only partially implemented a previous Arab League-led plan to halt the violence. “It’s like other initiatives that have been before,” a rebel spokesman known as Abu Rami said in the central city of Homs, which has been the scene of fierce fighting between Syrian forces and heavily outgunned protesters. “They did not stop the shelling.”
Indeed, many Syria observers argue that Assad is seeking to bog down Annan and his team of mediators in a fruitless diplomatic process that will provide him with political cover to continue his military campaign against the opposition.