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Monday, April 2, 2012

U.S. intelligence sees no signs of Syria’s Assad losing grip on power

The Syrian leadership believes “it is winning” against rebels trying to topple the government, a U.S. intelligence official said late Sunday, despite ongoing international peace efforts to recognize the Syrian opposition.

Chairman of the House intelligence committee, Mike Rogers, said in a television interview that there are no signs that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is losing his grip on power, citing U.S. intelligence agencies.

“We don’t see Assad’s inner circle crumbling,” Rogers told CNN, in comments carried by the LA Times.

Assad’s regime most recently declared victory over rebels last week, with Syrian security forces continuing to shell rebel positions, displaying no plans to immediately withdraw troops despite Assad’s initial agreement to a U.N.-backed peace plan.

Meanwhile, in Syria this week, foreign ministry spokesman Jihad al Makdissi all but proclaimed victory over the uprising. "The battle to topple the state is over," he told Syrian television, the BBC reported.

On Sunday, “Friends of Syria” member states recognized the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) as a legitimate representative of all Syrians, and “noted” it as the main opposition interlocutor with the international community - wording that fell short of full recognition of a group hampered by chronic disunity.

The countries called on the U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan to give the Syrian leader a timeline to deliver on his ceasefire commitment.

"The regime will be judged by its deeds rather than its promises," said a communiqué issued by representatives of 83 nations in Turkey. It called on Annan "to determine a timeline for next steps, including a return to the U.N. Security Council, if the killing continues."

But the group stopped short of mentioning any supporting or arming of the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), as advocated by some Gulf Arab states.

The member states did say, however, they would “continue to work on additional appropriate measures with a view to the protection of the Syrian people.”

Assad has accepted, but not yet implemented, Annan’s six-point peace plan, which calls for the military to cease fire, withdraw from towns and cities, and allow humanitarian access.

“We will not let the Syrian regime misuse another opportunity, which is the last chance for the situation in Syria,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a news conference after the meeting he hosted.

Gulf states are likely to interpret the phrase as a license to fund, if not arm, the FSA, while the United States and others will see it as allowing supplies of non-lethal equipment to the loosely organized armed opposition to Assad.

The Syrian regime’s deadly crackdown on opponents has left more than 9,000 people dead since the uprising began in March last year, according to monitors.

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