North Atlantic Treaty Organization

Professor Jeremi Suri discusses challenges to European security at the “Seeking Security” conference held Monday.

Photo Credit: Ethan Black | Daily Texan Staff

European security institutions are out-of-date because they have not evolved since the end of the Cold War, according to a panel of lecturers who spoke Monday at the College of Liberal Arts.

Foreign security is formed by European organizations, such as NATO and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, that are tasked with using military and cultural influence to prevent conflict, according to Lorinc Redei, lecturer at the LBJ School of Public Affairs. European security institutions need to better understand the conflicts they are involved with to ensure the safety of the affected citizens, Redei said.

“There’s a lot of players on the field, and we know who the players are, but we don’t really know if there is a coach calling the play,” Redei said. “Unless you have a play, you’re not going to win the game. And so I think with this conference, what we’re trying to figure out is … who the coach is and what the plays are.”

The lack of European wars in the 21st century has caused European security to become an uninteresting topic, according to Jennifer Johnson, Plan II senior. Since the 2014 Ukrainian revolution has been under the control of the Europeans, the focus has shifted to questioning the responsibilities of the these European institutions, Johnson said.

“Ukraine is really important now,” Johnson said. “It’s really an important test [for Europe] almost to see which organizations they use because obviously OSCE is on the ground right now, and NATO is a very controversial power and [is] what Russia is ultimately afraid of.”

Economics sophomore Mariana Bernal said the way US-allied European countries have responded to anti-American crises is important to both U.S. and global security.

“I hope to see if whatever they’re doing, as of now, is being done unilaterally against the U.S. or against anyone, really, or to see if they’re working for peace in a broader sense,” Bernal said.

The future of European security depends on whether you hold an optimistic or pessimistic perspective on the situation, Redei said.

“If you’re an optimist, you might say Europe is going to coordinate itself more effectively … if you’re a pessimist, you would say that you’re going to have a free-for-all or anarchy of all these institutions working haphazardly,” Redei said. “The default option is always that Europe is just going to muddle through, but the question is, will it be able to muddle for much longer without going one way or the other?”

In an earlier version of this article, Jeremi Suri's name was misspelled in the caption. It has been updated.

From left, Lars Erik London, Richard Froh and Bert Versmessen discuss the current security issues within Europe at the CLA on Monday night.
Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

Three European security practitioners gathered Monday at the College of Liberal Arts to discuss how security relations among European countries have fared in the last 25 years.

After 9/11, the international community began to group organized crime and terrorism together, according to Lars-Erik Lundin, senior research fellow at the Institute for Security and Development Policy.

“Terrorists organize large funds, use cyber Internet, etc., and this further broadens and complicates the concept of security,” Lundin said.

The 2014 Ukrainian revolution is an example of hybrid warfare, a strategy that blends conventional and cyber warfare, said Richard Froh, NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Operations. 

The members of NATO say an attack on one ally is an attack on all, but it is no longer clear if something is an attack, according to Froh.

“Is a cyber attack an attack?” Froh said. “Would that then call up collective defense? How do you counter that? How do you fight propaganda to reassure your own people and respond to adversaries?”

NATO guidelines state two percent of Gross Domestic Product should be spent on defense. Now, according to Froh, only three of the 27 NATO members — the U.S., the United Kingdom and Estonia — are meeting this stipulation.

“There is an importance in helping others develop defense capacities,” Froh said. “NATO needs to work with others. We are part of the solution, but we are not the solution. We all need to work together.”

The security situation is in good condition because the European Union as a peace project has succeeded, according to Bert Versmessen, assistant to the Deputy Secretary-General of the European External Action Service. 

“In the 25 years since the Cold War, we have successfully integrated some of our former enemies into democratic market economies,” Versmessen said.

Regardless of the democratic integration, Europe continues to have a deteriorating security environment, Versmessen said. 

“For the first time since World War II, there has been a change in ordinance by force, such as the phenomenon of domestic fighters and the rise of extremist groups,” Versmessen said. “We have to let this sink in.”

As international organizations face conflict from multiple sides, the “my threat is more important than yours” dynamic becomes a problem, according to Vermessen.

“The unity is there, but we need to maintain it,” Versmessen said.

Photo Credit: Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

Russia should develop a long-lasting partnership with NATO to help the involved countries face the challenges of the 21st century, according to Sharyl Cross, professor and director of the Kozmetsky Center at St. Edward’s University.

Cross spoke on campus Thursday about the fluctuating relationship between NATO, Russia and the U.S., from the Cold War until today. NATO is a intergovernmental military alliance which includes 28 North American and European countries. Cross said she believes it is important for Russia to be seen as part of Europe and be economically involved with NATO. 

“NATO has the exceptional capacity to bring nations together,” Cross said. “I would say that the enlargement and increased cultural diversity [of NATO] has only aided the alliance. Russia is a major player and a major force that should not be discounted.”

Although their cooperation is important, Russia and NATO countries will not be able to create an alliance overnight, Cross said.

“I would argue that it’s a mistake to isolate Russia,” Cross said. “I don’t think that is the solution … Think long-term, be patient, define your objectives, be realistic, know that there will be setbacks but know also that there’s a lot at stake.”

Nick Hemlock, international relations and global studies senior, said he did a capstone project focused on the 2008 Russian and Georgian war and has attended several of Cross’ previous lectures on Russian and Eurasian studies.

“I liked her multifaceted approach and that she uses lots of different sources, because, usually, these things are very one-sided in the way they’re presented,” Hemlock said.

Kari Andreev, a Russian, East European and Eurasian studies graduate student, said she attended the lecture to learn about how the relationship between Russia and NATO was impacted by last year’s Ukrainian revolution.

“I’m in an international business class, and today’s topic was Russian and Ukraine, so I came to learn more about the situation and prepare myself,” Andreev said.

Cross said she hopes war will not arise, and Russia will work with NATO to come to an agreement about Ukraine’s identity and future.

“We need to try to de-escalate the situation, placing great emphasis on ending the humanitarian catastrophe and loss of life in Ukraine, and move things back to a more productive and peaceful course,” Cross said.

Photo Credit: Shannon Butler | Daily Texan Staff

As observers of international affairs, we have a tendency to divide the world into good guys and bad guys, friends and foes. Old maps from the Second World War show the allied countries in one color, the axis countries in another. Cold War maps depict our allies in blue or white, the communists usually in red. Since Sept. 11, 2001, American policymakers have divided the world roughly between our friends in the war against terrorism, and those states that support or house terrorists (what former President George W. Bush infamously called the “axis of evil”). 

Russia, under its dictatorial president, Vladimir Putin, poses a problem for these somewhat unavoidable colors on our maps. Putin’s actions in the last year have clearly shown that he aims to challenge American and West European influence in the territories around his state. Putin has invaded South Ossetia (formerly part of the republic of Georgia), Crimea and eastern Ukraine to prevent those regions from joining the European Union or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, despite strong support in each nation for cultivating these Western connections. Putin has flagrantly vetoed efforts in the United Nations to punish Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s genocidal attacks on his own population. On July 17 paramilitary forces in eastern Ukraine operating Russian weapons shot down a civilian aircraft, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, killing 298 civilians. Undaunted, Russia has continued to support this kind of reckless behavior, including provocative military aircraft flights near E.U. and U.S. borders. 

Some observers have diagnosed a new Cold War, with a renewed division in Europe, but that exaggerates the Russian threat. For all his brutality, Putin is not seeking to close off Russia to Western capital, people or ideas. If anything, he wants his chosen allies at home to benefit from foreign investments, high-skilled workers, innovative technologies and modern media. Putin recognizes that Russian power and prosperity require integration, not separation, from global capitalist markets and knowledge industries. His goal is to manage Russia’s global integration for his maximum benefit, minimizing what he perceives as the advantages of the U.S. and E.U. Putin has shown little concern for the freedoms and living standards of his own citizens; his priority is the power of the state that he controls.

Condemning Putin as an aggressive tyrant is not sufficient, and it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. Cornered and isolated dictators almost never back down; they usually turn to more threatening policies. Similarly, ignoring Putin’s misdeeds and hoping for the best in negotiations will not work, either. Aggressive and self-righteous tyrants seek to exploit opportunities; they will push against their neighbors until someone pushes back. 

The challenge for American and European policy is to contend with the current realities and the likely reactions from Putin toward various Western actions. Many of our discussions of policy caricature our adversaries, while they simultaneously overstate our power and understate the range of our options. Like the simple lines and colors on our maps, our strategic vision of the world is much too simple. The key task for policy observers is to avoid dichotomies between good and evil and instead conceptualize how the United States can discourage Putin’s continued aggression without further antagonizing the Russian dictator by backing him into a corner. 

What the United States needs is a policy that builds what former Secretary of State Dean Acheson called “situations of strength” while also offering Russia dignified exits from confrontation. Rhetoric about “stopping” Russia overstates our capabilities, and efforts to humiliate Putin make the resolution of conflict more difficult. Backing down is hard for everyone, especially political strongmen who rule through intimidation. Firmness, preparation and respect — even for brutal regimes — are key elements of a workable relationship. Political efficacy requires reasonableness in addition to moral indignation.

So what does a firm, prepared, respectful and reasonable U.S. and E.U. policy toward Russia look like? Historical experience points to three basic elements. First, the U.S. and E.U. should state clearly why we believe that Ukraine, Georgia and other countries around Russia deserve the right to join the E.U., NATO and other Western organizations if they wish. We must show consistency, seriousness and interests beyond immediate gains for our own societies. An adversary, like Russia, cannot appreciate our interests and values if we do not articulate them effectively.

Second, attention to Ukraine, Georgia and other countries does not mean that Russia should be ignored. Quite the contrary, U.S. and E.U. leaders should reach out explicitly to show that we value dialogue with Russia. We should give Putin reasons to want to do the right thing.

Third, and perhaps most important, Washington and Brussels must truly represent global opinion. Instead of falling into Putin’s trap of conceptualizing the conflict as a battle of the rich West against the rest, President Barack Obama and his counterparts must appeal to other major countries in East Asia, Latin America and Africa. Putin must see that there is little sympathy for his behavior around the globe. World opinion matters, and skillful diplomatic work to mobilize world opinion on behalf of democracy and national sovereignty is crucial.

Although the lines on the maps still matter, they should not force our thinking into rigid “us” versus “them” assumptions. Putin’s Russia is a threat, but it is a manageable threat. Policy leadership on this topic is more about diplomacy, negotiation and creativity than the moralistic rhetoric that dominates our public discussions. We can indeed help to lead the world without simplistically dividing it.

Suri is a professor in the Department of History and the LBJ School of Public Affairs. Follow him on Twitter @JeremiSuri. 

BRUSSELS — Serbia’s ambassador to NATO was chatting and joking with colleagues in a multistory parking garage at Brussels Airport when he suddenly strolled to a barrier, climbed over and flung himself to the ground below, a diplomat said.

By the time his shocked colleagues reached him, Branislav Milinkovic was dead.

His motives are a mystery. Three diplomats who knew Milinkovic said he did not appear distraught in the hours leading up to his death Tuesday night. He seemed to be going about his regular business, they said, picking up an arriving delegation of six Serbian officials who were to hold talks with NATO, the alliance that went to war with his country just 13 years ago.

“It was indeed a suicide,” Ine Van Wymersch of the Brussels prosecutor’s office said. She said no further investigation was planned.

The diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release details, said they knew of no circumstances — private or professional — that would have prompted him to take his own life. Milinkovic, 52, had mentioned to colleagues at diplomatic functions that he was unhappy about living apart from his wife, a Serbian diplomat based in Vienna, and their 17-year-old son.

Smoke rises over Saif Al Dawla district in Aleppo, Syria, Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

BEIRUT — Turkish artillery fired on Syrian targets Wednesday after shelling from Syria struck a border village in Turkey, killing five civilians, sharply escalating tensions between the two neighbors and prompting NATO to convene an emergency meeting.

“Our armed forces at the border region responded to this atrocious attack with artillery fire on points in Syria that were detected with radar, in line with the rules of engagement,” the Turkish government said in a statement from the prime minister’s office.

The artillery fire capped a day that began with four bombs tearing through a government-held district in Syria’s commercial and cultural capital of Aleppo, killing more than 30 people and reducing buildings to rubble.

Along the volatile border, a shell fired from inside Syria landed on a home in the Turkish village of Akcakale, killing a woman, her three daughters and another woman, and wounding at least 10 others, according to Turkish media.

The shelling appeared to come from forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, which is fighting rebels backed by Turkey in an escalating civil war.

“Turkey, acting within the rules of engagement and international laws, will never leave unreciprocated such provocations by the Syrian regime against our national security,” the office of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement.

Turkish media said Turkey has prepared a parliamentary bill for Syria that is similar to one that authorizes the Turkish military to intervene in northern Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish militants who have bases there. The bill is expected to be discussed in parliament on Thursday, Anadolu agency reported.

If approved, the bill could more easily open the way to unilateral action by Turkey’s armed forces inside Syria, without the involvement of its Western and Arab allies.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the U.S. was “outraged that the Syrians have been shooting across the border,” adding that she would speak with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on the matter.

“It’s a very, very dangerous situation,” Clinton said. “And all responsible nations need to band together to persuade the Assad regime to have a cease-fire, quit assaulting their own people and begin the process of a political transition.”

NATO’s National Atlantic Council, which is composed of the alliance’s ambassadors, held an emergency meeting in Brussels Wednesday night at Turkey’s request to discuss the cross-border incident.

The meeting ended with a statement strongly condemning the attack and saying: “The alliance continues to stand by Turkey and demands the immediate cessation of such aggressive acts against an ally.” It also urged the Syrian regime to “put an end to flagrant violations of international law.”

NATO also held an emergency meeting when a Turkish jet was shot down by Syria in June, killing two pilots.

Turkey wants to avoid going into Syria on its own. It has been pushing for international intervention in the form of a safe zone, which would likely entail foreign security forces on the ground and a partial no-fly zone. However, the allies fear military intervention in Syria could ignite a wider conflict, and few observers expect robust action from the United States, which Turkey views as vital to any operation in Syria, ahead of the presidential election in November.

In this Jan. 31, 2010 file photo, an unmanned U.S. Predator drone flies over Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan, on a moon-lit night. The White House has no intentions to end CIA drone strikes against militant targets on Pakistani soil, setting the two countries up for diplomatic blows after Pakistani’s parliament unanimously approved new guidelines for the country in its troubled relationship with the US, US and Pakistani officials say.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

ISLAMABAD — Pakistani officials on Monday condemned the U.S. for carrying out its first drone strike in the country since parliament demanded they end two weeks ago, but qualified that it should be seen in light of the presence of Islamist militants on Pakistani soil.

The mixed signals indicate the delicate tightrope the government is trying to walk with the American attacks. They are very unpopular in Pakistan, so opposing them makes sense for political reasons. But the government does not seem to want the strikes to torpedo attempts to patch up ties with the U.S., which could free up over $1 billion in American military aid.

Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying the strikes which killed three suspected militants in the North Waziristan tribal area Sunday “are in total contravention of international law and established norms of interstate relations.”

“The government of Pakistan has consistently maintained that drone attacks are violative of its territorial integrity and sovereignty,” it said.

Pakistan’s parliament demanded an end to the strikes in mid-April when it approved new guidelines for the country’s relationship with the U.S.

Washington had hoped that parliament’s decision would pave the way for Pakistan to reopen supply lines for NATO troops in Afghanistan that were closed in November in retaliation for American airstrikes that accidentally killed 24 Pakistani troops.

The drone attacks have been a stumbling block. But Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani struck a moderate tone Monday when he seemed to link the strikes to the continued ability of Islamist militants fighting the government and international forces in Afghanistan to operate in Pakistan.

He pointed out that the resolution passed by parliament also stipulated that foreign fighters must be expelled from the country and Pakistani soil should not be used to attack other countries.

“So, when we plan a strategy (with the U.S.), all these aspects would be discussed,” said Gilani.

The U.S. has repeatedly demanded that Pakistan target Taliban and al-Qaida militants who use its territory to launch cross-border attacks.

The Pakistani military has refused, claiming its forces are stretched too thin by operations against homegrown militants battling the government. However, many analysts believe Pakistan is reluctant to target militants with whom it has historical ties because they could be useful allies in Afghanistan after foreign forces withdraw.

The drone issue is complicated by the fact that some elements of the Pakistani government, including the military, have helped the U.S. carry out strikes in the past. That cooperation has come under strain as the relationship between the two countries has deteriorated, but many analysts believe some in the government still support the program at some level.

Even those Pakistani officials believed to support the attacks often protest them in public because they are so unpopular in the country. Many Pakistanis believe they most kill civilians, an allegation disputed by the U.S. and independent research.

A Pakistani intelligence official said the most recent strike seemed to be a message from the U.S.
“It’s a message that things are going to continue as usual irrespective of what we say,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

It’s not the first time the U.S. has ignored Pakistan’s parliament, which has called for the drone strikes to end since 2008.

President Barack Obama significantly ramped up strikes in Pakistan when he took office in 2009, and while the U.S. has said little publicly about the attacks, American officials have argued in private that they are critical to targeting Taliban and al-Qaida fighters who threaten the West.

Drones are not the only issue complicating Pakistan’s decision to reopen the NATO supply lines.

The country’s parliament has also demanded that the U.S. provide an “unconditional apology” for the deaths of the Pakistani troops in November. The U.S. has expressed regret, but has declined to apologize — a decision that appears to be driven by domestic political considerations. The U.S. has said its troops fired in self-defense — a claim disputed by Pakistan — and the White House could be concerned about Republican criticism if it apologizes.

Printed on Tuesday, May 1, 2012: Pakistan sending mixed messages on drone strikes

Afgan special forces on top of a building previosly occupied by militants in Kabul, Afghanistan on Monday. Insurgents were earlier holed up in the building but were overcome by heavy gunfire.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan — For Taliban militants and U.S. strategists alike, all roads in this impoverished country of mountain passes, arid deserts and nearly impassable goat tracks lead to this ancient capital of 3 million people nestled in a high and narrow valley.

The Taliban made their intentions clear over the weekend, mounting spectacular coordinated attacks that spawned an 18-hour battle with Afghan and NATO forces. And now, the U.S. is gearing up for what may be the last major American-run offensive of the war — a bid to secure the approaches to the city.

While bombings and shootings elsewhere in Afghanistan receive relatively little attention, attacks in the capital alarm the general population, undermine the government’s reputation and frighten foreigners into fleeing the country. That’s why insurgents on Sunday struck locations that were so fortified they could cause little or no damage, including the diplomatic quarter, the parliament and a NATO base.

“These are isolated attacks that are done for symbolic purposes, and they have not regained any territory,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said.

The U.S.-led spring offensive, expected to begin in the coming weeks, may be NATO’s last chance to shore up Kabul’s defenses before a significant withdrawal of combat troops limits its options. The focus will be regions that control the main access routes, roads and highways into Kabul from the desert south and the mountainous east. These routes are used not only by militants but by traders carrying goods from Pakistan and Iran.

The strategy involves clearing militants from provinces such as Ghazni, just south of the capital. The pivotal region links Kabul with the Taliban homeland in the south and provinces bordering Pakistan.

NATO, under U.S. command, will also conduct more operations in eastern provinces such as Paktika and Paktia that are considered major infiltration routes to the capital from insurgent safe havens in Pakistan.

Afghan and U.S. officials blamed the Pakistan-based Haqqani network, which is part of the Taliban and has close links with al-Qaida, for the weekend attacks that left 36 insurgents, eight policemen and three civilians dead in Kabul and three eastern provinces. But Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said officials have not concluded whether the attacks emanated out of Pakistan.

Declining numbers of international troops in the coming months are also forcing coalition forces to focus less on remote and thickly populated places such as eastern Nuristan. They hope to move responsibility for those areas to the Afghan security forces.

Coalition forces last summer made gains in traditional Taliban strongholds such as Kandahar and Helmand provinces in the south, areas they must now hold with fewer troops. By September, as many as 10,000 U.S. Marines are scheduled to leave Helmand and hand over the lead for security to Afghan forces in the former Taliban stronghold.

“It’s going to be a very busy summer,” Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. and NATO commander, said recently. “The campaign will balance the drawdown of the surged forces with the consolidation of our holdings in the south, continued combat operations” and an effort to push Afghan security forces into the lead.

The U.S. this month finished moving the 1st brigade of the 82nd Airborne into Ghazni to help clear out a Taliban stronghold in Andar district. It could be one of the largest remaining American clearing operations of the war.

It is not known when that operation will take place, but Ghazni is located at a key chokepoint with the country’s main highway from the south to Kabul running through it. The highway runs just past Andar district.

“If you secure Andar, you have secured Ghazni, and you have secured Afghanistan,” the governor of Ghazni, Musa Khan, told U.S. forces last week at a handover ceremony with departing Polish troops.

Eliminating the Ghazni problem is an important part of the plan to transition security responsibility from foreign forces to the nascent Afghan National Security Forces.

After September, the U.S.-led coalition may not have enough troops on the ground for such large-scale operations and will increasingly have to depend on the Afghans to take the lead.

The U.S.-led coalition is keen to show that the 330,000-strong Afghan forces are capable of filling in a vacuum left by the withdrawal of 33,000 U.S. forces by the end of September. It also wants to use them more and more in operations against insurgent forces in key battlegrounds such as the east.

Last week Afghan forces carried out an operation in eastern Nuristan, a Taliban stronghold, with only support from coalition forces.

“This was yet another example of the successful transition we have been seeing throughout the past year, as the ANSF are planning, leading and executing very productive combat operations against the insurgency,” Allen said. “We expect to see more of these types of successful ANSF-led operations as we progress further into the spring and summer,” he added.

Afghan forces are to peak at 352,000 by the end of the year and are expected to take over much of the fighting as the U.S. draws down an additional 23,000 troops to 68,000 by the end of September. U.S. troop levels reached a high of about 100,000 last year.

Estimates of the Taliban fighting force hover around 25,000. The Afghan army and police are now in charge of security for areas home to half the nation’s population, with coalition forces in a support role. The coalition hopes to keep handing over control until Afghan forces are fully in charge by the end of 2013, with all combat troops scheduled to withdraw from the country by the end of 2014.

The U.S. may retain a small number of forces past that date to help train and mentor the Afghan army and help with counterterrorism efforts.

There is very little appetite in Western countries for keeping troops in Afghanistan, but U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker said Sunday’s attack shows the danger of withdrawing international forces too quickly.

“There’s a very dangerous enemy out there with capabilities and with safe havens in Pakistan. To get out before the Afghans have a full grip on security, which is a couple of years out, would be to invite the Taliban, Haqqani, and al-Qaida back in and set the stage for another 9/11,” Crocker said.

Published on Tuesday, April 17, 2012 as: US nears final Afghan offesnsive

Lebanese anti-Syrian regime protestors carry the Syrian revolutionary flag at Martyr's Square in Beirut, Lebanon, last month.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

BEIRUT — Syria’s opposition called for widespread protests Friday to test the regime’s commitment to an internationally brokered cease-fire that the U.N. chief described as so fragile it could collapse with a single gunshot.

Regime forces halted heavy shelling and other major attacks in line with the truce that began at dawn Thursday, though there were accusations of scattered violence by both sides. The government ignored demands to pull troops back to barracks, however, defying a key aspect of the plan, which aims to calm a year-old uprising that has killed 9,000 people and has pushed the country toward civil war.

“The onus is on the government of Syria to prove that their words will be matched by their deeds at this time,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters in Geneva. He said the world was watching with skeptical eyes.

“This cease-fire process is very fragile. It may be broken any time,” Ban added, saying “another gunshot” could doom the truce.

The presence of tanks and troops could discourage any large gatherings, but the leader of the opposition Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalioun, urged Syrians to demonstrate peacefully on Friday. “Tomorrow, like every Friday, the Syrian people are called to demonstrate even more and put the regime in front of its responsibilities — put the international community in front of its responsibilities.”

A massive protest would be an important test of the cease-fire — whether President Bashar Assad will allow his forces to hold their fire and risk ushering in a weekslong sit-in or losing control over territory that government forces recently recovered from rebels.

So far, the military crackdown has prevented protesters from recreating the powerful displays of dissent seen in Egypt’s Tahrir Square.

If the truce holds, it would be the first time the regime has observed an internationally brokered cease-fire since Assad’s regime launched a brutal crackdown 13 months ago.

“The test will come when we start to see protests across the length and breadth of the country,” said Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center. “Is the Assad regime willing to accept that there will likely be hundreds of thousands of people on the streets in the next few days? And will they accept those protesters, if they are not breaking any laws, occupying certain spaces and towns and centers of towns, should that start to arise?”

An outbreak of violence at a chaotic rally could give the regime a pretext for ending the truce. And it would be difficult to determine the source of such an attack, given that Syria is largely sealed off from journalists and outside observers.

The U.N. chief’s envoy, Kofi Annan, urged the 15-nation U.N. Security Council to authorize an observer mission that would keep the cease-fire going and to demand that Assad order his troops back to barracks, U.N. diplomats said. The council could adopt a resolution on the observers as early as Friday, the diplomats said on condition of anonymity because the meeting was closed.

Western powers, skeptical that Assad will call off the killings, said an end to violence is just the first step.

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron urged Syria’s allies Russia and China to help “tighten the noose” around Assad’s regime. Russia and China have blocked strong action against Syria at the Security Council, fearing it would open the door to possible NATO airstrikes like those that helped topple Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton noted that Assad failed to comply with key obligations, such as pulling back tanks.

“The burden of fully and visibly meeting all of these obligations continues to rest with the regime,” she said. “They cannot pick and choose. For it to be meaningful, this apparent halt in violence must lead to a credible political process and a peaceful, inclusive democratic transition.”

The U.S. Embassy in Damascus published an image on its Facebook page that purports to show tanks deployed within the city of Homs.

“Clearly, Assad is not complying,” the embassy said.

Bassma Kodmani, a spokeswoman for the opposition Syrian National Council, said a heavy security presence, including checkpoints and snipers, remained in the streets despite the cease-fire.

“There is no evidence of any significant withdrawal,” she told reporters in Geneva. “The real test for us today is if people can go and demonstrate peacefully” she added. “This is the real reality check.”

But analysts said the apparent halt in government attacks suggests Assad’s allies are pressuring him for the first time, after shielding him from international condemnation in the past. Annan has visited Russia, Iran and China to get the broadest possible backing for the plan.

On Thursday, the Russian and Chinese ambassadors called the Syrian cease-fire an important step and said they supported implementation of all points in the Annan plan — including the troop and equipment withdrawal.

“We’re encouraged that we do now have a cessation of violence in Syria,” Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said. “We hope it holds. Everybody needs to behave with maximum prudence for that to happen.”

“Frankly, there is one thing which Mr. Annan, I hope, is going to accomplish very soon — clear-cut agreement by opposition leaders to enter into dialogue with the Syrian government,” Churkin added. “This so far has not happened.”

There were signs of how easily the Annan plan could fray.

In the hours after the 6 a.m. deadline, at least four civilians were reported killed — three of them by sniper fire — and the state-run news agency said “terrorist groups” set off a roadside bomb that killed a soldier. But there was no sign of the heavy shelling, rocket attacks and sniper fire that have become routine.

Troops also intensified searches at checkpoints, tightening controls ahead of possible large-scale protests Friday.

Although Syria promised to comply with the cease-fire, the regime carved out an important condition — that it still has a right to defend itself against the terrorists that it says are behind the rebellion.

The government denies that it is facing a popular uprising. Instead, the regime says, terrorists are carrying out a foreign conspiracy to destroy Syria. Because the regime has treated any sign of dissent as a provocation, many observers fear that an abrupt end to the bloodshed will be all but impossible.

In the early days of the Syrian rebellion, Syrian forces used tanks, snipers and machine guns on peaceful protesters, driving many of them to take up arms. Since then, the uprising has transformed into an armed insurgency, with more and more protesters taking up arms and rebels forming a fighting force to bring down the regime.

The rebel Free Syrian Army, made up largely of army defectors, has said it will observe the cease-fire. But the opposition is not well-organized, and there are growing fears of groups looking to exploit the chaos.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar have called for arming the rebels, but even if they follow through there is no guarantee that such efforts could cripple Assad’s well-armed regime.

Western powers have pinned their hopes on Annan’s plan, in part because they are running out of options. NATO-style military intervention has been all but ruled out, in part because the conflict is so explosive. Syria has had a web of allegiances to powerful forces including Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Shiite powerhouse Iran, and conflict could spark a regional conflagration.

With Thursday’s relative ease in violence, many see a U.N. observer team as a key next step.

“It is difficult to fully assess the situation on the ground, in the absence of U.N. observers,” Ban told reporters. “And therefore we are working with the Security Council to send an observer team as promptly as possible.”

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Associated Press writers Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, Frank Jordans and John Heilprin in Geneva, Matthew Lee in Washington, Jamey Keaten in Paris and Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara, Turkey, contributed to this report.
 

Printed on Friday, April 13, 2012 as: Syrians call for anti-Assad protests during truce

KABUL, Afghanistan — Negotiations over a long-term U.S. military presence in Afghanistan have bogged down over issues of detainees, night raids and quarrels within the Afghan president’s inner circle, throwing the whole deal into question.
The arrangement would formalize a U.S. role after NATO’s planned pullout in 2014. The deadlock reflects growing hostility on the part of the Afghan leadership and increasing exasperation in Washington.

Trust has eroded in recent days with anti-American protests over Quran burnings at a U.S. base, a rising number of U.S. troops gunned down by Afghan security forces and election-year demands to bring the troops home.

Karzai met Monday evening with U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, but a Karzai spokesman did not return phone calls requesting details about their talks. Karzai has scheduled a news conference on Tuesday; it is unclear whether he will discuss the negotiations.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Gavin Sundwall would not disclose any information about the meeting.

Earlier, Sundwall said that despite the dragging negotiations, the U.S. was committed to a strategic partnership with the Afghan people. However, he also said it was more important to get the right agreement than to get an agreement.

The pact is expected to provide for several thousand U.S. troops to stay and train Afghan forces and help with counterterrorism operations. It aims to outline the legal status of those forces, their operating rules and where they will be based. The agreement, which was supposed to be completed before the next NATO summit in May in Chicago, also is seen as means of assuring the Afghan people that the U.S. does not plan to abandon the country, even as it withdraws its combat forces.

NATO’s nighttime raids targeting insurgents are an especially touchy matter.

As part of the agreement, Karzai has said that Afghans should be the only ones conducting the night raids, because the invasion of privacy from troops entering a family’s home is compounded when the soldiers are Westerners. He has also complained that too many raids have resulted in the detention of non-insurgents or civilian deaths. NATO argues that no shots are fired in more than 85 percent of the raids.

An even thornier issue is detentions. Karzai is demanding that the United States transfer control of its main prison in the country — the Parwan Detention Facility, which adjoins Bagram Air Field in eastern Afghanistan — to Afghan control. Karzai thinks having the United States running prisons in his country is an affront to Afghan sovereignty. First he demanded that the prison be handed over by early February, then extended the deadline to this Friday.

The Obama administration has said that the Afghan judicial system is not yet capable of taking over responsibility for dangerous battlefield detainees. The U.S. is willing to work with the Karzai government to complete a transition of detention operations “in a manner that is safe and orderly and in accordance with our international legal obligations,” Sundwall said.

Afghan officials say privately that a U.S. proposal to hand over the facility in six months would be acceptable to some members of the Karzai government, but the president had not embraced the idea.

Karzai tried to bolster his argument by citing the incident on Feb. 20, when Qurans and other Islamic texts from a library at the Parwan Detention Facility were burned. He said that if Afghans had been running the prison, Muslim holy books would never had been sent to a garbage burn pit.

The incident, which Afghans viewed as evidence that foreign forces disregard their culture and Islamic faith, prompted six days of anti-American protests across the nation. During the demonstrations, 30 people died, including six U.S. troops who were killed when Afghan security forces turned their guns on the Americans.

On Monday, the Taliban took responsibility for a suicide bombing outside Bagram that killed two people, saying it was revenge for the Quran burnings.

In other violence Monday, the Interior Ministry said one civilian was killed and 11 people wounded when a man blew himself up at a police checkpoint in Jalalabad in the east.

Karzai has been stubborn about his demands — apparently so much so that he is losing the backing of some of his own top aides.

An Afghan government official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive negotiations, said that more than two months ago National Security Adviser Rangin Dadfar Spanta submitted his resignation after disagreements erupted between him and Karzai over the strategic partnership document.

Spanta, who is heading the talks, wants Karzai to compromise on night raids and detentions.

Karzai did not accept Spanta’s resignation, but kept the letter.

Spanta was on a trip to China and not available to comment, but Moradian said the resignation threat was part of an effort to pressure Karzai into a compromise.

“There is a possibility that if that tactic didn’t work he would resign,” said Moradian, assistant professor of political science at American University in Kabul.

Moradian, who was the chief policy adviser to Spanta when he was foreign minister, said he thinks Washington is considering waiting to negotiate the deal with Karzai’s successor. Karzai is set to leave office after his second term ends in 2014.