Syrian regime says it is ‘interested in exploring’ ceasefire option


The Syrian regime is “interested in exploring” a ceasefire in the 19-month conflict as proposed by international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Maqdisi said on Tuesday.

But he stressed that for a halt to the violence, the rebels and their backers would need to be involved too.

“In order to succeed in any initiative, it takes two sides,” Maqdisi said in answer to a question from AFP.

“The Syrian side is interested in exploring this option and we are looking forward to talking to Mr. Brahimi to see what is the position of other influential countries that he talked to in his tour,” he said.

“Will they pressure the armed groups that they host and finance and arm in order to abide by such a ceasefire?”

Brahimi, who took over from Kofi Annan after the former U.N. secretary-general resigned in frustration in August, has been traveling around the Middle East trying to persuade key regional powers to accept his plan, which is similar to a failed ceasefire Annan tried to implement, U.N. diplomats said on Tuesday.

During a visit to Tehran on Sunday, Brahimi appealed to Iranian leaders to help arrange a ceasefire in Syria during the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha, which begins around Oct. 25. Brahimi has also visited Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iraq to meet with officials and enlist their support for ending the conflict.

The idea is that this ceasefire could open the door to something more sustained,” a Western diplomat told Reuters. “But it’s not clear how realistic this idea is. Annan tried and failed to do the same thing.”

If there is a more-sustained ceasefire, the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations has told Brahimi that it could theoretically put together a force of up to 3,000 monitors who would separate the warring sides to ensure that fighting does not resume, diplomats said.

“Brahimi is telling the key parties to the conflict that such a plan is theoretically possible,” the diplomat said. His comments were verified by a senior U.N. diplomatic source.

“The contingency plans are purely theoretical and no Western countries have pledged troops for it,” the diplomat added.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week said he urged Assad’s government to implement a unilateral ceasefire, though he added that the government reacted coolly to the idea.

Western diplomats said Ban was urging Brahimi to press ahead with his unilateral ceasefire plan.

Under Annan’s proposed truce, some 300 monitors and around 100 civilian experts began deploying to Syria in April to oversee a ceasefire that was never realized. As the conflict worsened, the Security Council allowed the force’s mandate to lapse and the unarmed monitoring team withdrew in August.