Indeed, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other participants in a meeting on Syria, held in Istanbul, uniformly expressed concern that Annan's plan might backfire, speculating that President Bashar al-Assad would try to manipulate it to prolong his hold on power.
Clinton said she was waiting for Annan's report to the U.N. Security Council on Monday on the status of his peace plan.
"If Assad continues as he has, to fail to end the violence, to institute a cease-fire, to withdraw his troops from the areas he has been battering . . . then it's unlikely he is going to ever agree," she said.
Clinton said Assad might want to wait and see if his forces can completely crush the opposition. "I think he would be mistaken to believe that," she said. "My reading is that the opposition is gaining in intensity, not losing."
In addition, Clinton said Washington was providing communications equipment to help antigovernment activists in Syria organize, remain in contact with the outside world, and evade regime attacks.
The Syrian regime last week agreed to Annan's plan, which calls for an immediate cease-fire, humanitarian access to besieged civilians, and political negotiations led by Syrians. Since then, there have been daily reports of violence. The United Nations says more than 9,000 people have been killed since an uprising against Assad began a year ago.
Russia and China have twice protected the Syrian regime from censure by the U.N. Security Council, fearing such a step could lead to foreign military intervention. Syria's international opponents have no plans to launch a military operation similar to the Libya bombing campaign that ousted leader Moammar Gadhafi, especially without U.N. support, but they are slowly overcoming doubts about assisting scattered rebel forces.
Conference participants in Istanbul said Saudi Arabia and other gulf countries were creating a fund to pay members of the rebel Free Syrian Army and soldiers who defect from the regime and join opposition ranks.
Participants confirmed the plan on condition of anonymity because details were still being worked out. A participant said the fund would involve several million dollars a month. It is allegedly earmarked for salaries, but it was unclear whether there would be any effort to prevent the diversion of money to weapons purchases, a sensitive issue that could prompt stronger accusations of military meddling by foreign powers.
The Saudis and other Arab gulf states have proposed giving weapons to the rebels, while the U.S. and other allies have balked out of fear of fueling an all-out civil war. Washington has taken no public position on the fund, but it appears that it has given tacit support to its Arab allies.
Mohammed al-Said, a Syrian activist in Duma, northwest of Damascus, said that salaries might encourage further defections, but that only arms would turn the tide against Assad. "What is clear to us is that only fighting can make this regime leave," he said via Skype, adding the opposition wanted arms more than military intervention so they could topple Assad themselves.
Fayez Amru, a rebel who recently defected from the military and is now based in Turkey, welcomed the decision as a "humanitarian step in the right direction," but also said weapons were needed.
"We feel let down by the international community. I don't know why there is hesitation by the West . . . maybe this will help at least keep the rebels on their feet," Amru said.
The debate over arming or funding the rebels is being driven partly by the sectarian split in the region. The upheaval in Syria presents an opportunity for the Sunni Muslim states in the gulf to bolster their influence, consolidate power, and possibly leave regional rival Iran, led by a Shiite theocracy, without critical alliances that flow through Damascus.
Assad's regime, which counts Iran among its few allies, is led by the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiism.
At the meeting in Istanbul, delegates talked of tighter sanctions and increased diplomatic pressure on Assad, and Syrian opposition representatives promised to offer a democratic alternative to his regime. Yet the show of solidarity at the "Friends of the Syrian People" conference was marred by the absence of China, Russia, and Iran.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said military options might have to be considered if Syria does not cooperate with Annan's plan and the U.N. Security Council fails to unite in opposition to Assad.