The Obama administration expressed support for the Arab League’s decision to increase its number of monitors in Syria and to extend its observer mission until January 19, but joined the organization in saying that the Syrian government has still failed to meet its commitments to stop the violence against peaceful demonstrators and release political prisoners.
“We were pleased to see the Arab League conclude that 150 monitors is not enough, that they need to expand the numbers,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters January 9 after the league met in Egypt to discuss the observer mission and agreed to increase the number of monitors to 300.
The organization also issued a statement January 8 that called on Bashar al-Assad’s regime to follow through on its promises to release all political prisoners and end its violent response to the political demonstrations that have led to the death of more than 5,000 Syrian civilians since they began in March 2011.
“The violence has not stopped. … [The] vast majority of [political prisoners] remain in jail. And we’re still seeing all kinds of … regime arms and weapons in residential neighborhoods,” Nuland said.
The presence of monitors in some areas has created the space for protests to take place in safety, she said, and in those places the Syrian people “have been able to express their will, and they’ve been able to get some media attention to their desires.”
She encouraged the Syrian opposition, which has been frustrated by the continuing violence, to “continue to do what they can to organize, to make their views known, to take advantage of those monitors who are there to get their message out.”
Nuland praised the Arab League for taking on “quite a large responsibility in trying to stop the regime’s violence” and said the Obama administration is prepared to respond if it asks the United States for technical help in the monitoring mission.
“This is … a first outing for them as international monitors,” she said. “It’s a very important and valuable capability for the Arab League to be developing. So I think one thing that will come out of this one way or the other is some lessons learned … in terms of what they need. And we obviously stand by to help if that’s wanted.”