The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on Saturday that authorizes an initial deployment of up to 300 unarmed military observers to Syria for three months to monitor a fragile week-old ceasefire in a 13-month old conflict.
But the 15-nation council's move to condition deployment of observers on a U.N. assessment of compliance with the truce reflected U.S. and European concerns that Damascus' failure to halt the violence, return troops to barracks and withdraw heavy weapons from towns makes the prospects for success slim.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the council's decision, but cautioned that the situation in Syria was far from peaceful. He urged the government and opposition to stop fighting and make the full mission's swift deployment possible.
In a statement from his press office, Ban added that the government must "end all violence and human rights violations, and in particular to stop the use of heavy weapons and to withdraw such weapons and armed units from population centers."
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice made no effort to hide Washington's reluctance to support the deployment of the mission, to be called UNSMIS, in the face of continued violence and a "murderous rampage" by the Syrian government.
"The United Nations Security Council has called upon the government to take concrete actions," she said. "The Syrian government has ignored this council. In the United States our patience is exhausted."
She said the United States would not support renewal of the mandate after 90 days if the Syrian government did not implement U.N. Arab-League mediator Kofi Annan's six-point peace proposal and would push for sanctions if that happened.
"We will not wait 90 days to pursue measures against the Syrian government if it continues to violate its commitments or obstruct the monitors' work," Rice said.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Rice's apparent pessimism about the monitoring mission was "unhelpful."
"Making negative predictions sometimes looks like a prophecy which some people want to be borne out," he said. "We would like to think positively about the current situation."
The Russia-European drafted resolution said that deployment of the U.N. observer mission will be "subject to assessment by the Secretary-General (Ban Ki-moon) of relevant developments on the ground, including the cessation of violence."
The resolution also noted that the cessation of violence by the government and opposition is "clearly incomplete" and warned that the 15-nation body could consider "further steps" in the event of non-compliance with its terms.
Like the council's resolution from last week that authorized deployment of an advance team of up to 30 monitors, Saturday's resolution calls on both the Syria government and opposition to halt fighting that has killed thousands over the past year.
Russia and China twice vetoed resolutions condemning Assad's government but fully support Annan's peace efforts.
The resolution urges Syria to reach an agreement with the U.N. on "appropriate air transportation assets" and condemns the government for "widespread violations of human rights." Ban told Damascus he wants a quick agreement on the use of planes and helicopters by the mission.
Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari reiterated support for Annan's peace plan, which calls for an end to all violence, deployment of a monitoring mission, and dialogue between the government and opposition for a political transition. But he made clear his government would watch the monitors closely.
"My country has a vested interested in the success of the mission," Ja'afari said, though he cautioned that "those monitors must fulfill their work on the basis of objectivity, impartiality, and professionalism."
An earlier Arab League monitoring mission failed and pulled out of Syria and council diplomats say they want to avoid a similar fate for UNSMIS.
The resolution says Ban will brief the council about developments in Syria every 15 days and submit to it proposals for adjusting UNSMIS' mandate.