'UN council awaits Russian word on Syria draft'

Diplomats say envoys agree on text of revised draft resolution but decision rests in capitals; West, Arabs seek to reassure Moscow.

February 3, 2012 18:59
4 minute read.
United Nations Security Council

United Nations Security Council 311 (R). (photo credit: Mike Segar / Reuters)


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UNITED NATIONS - UN Security Council envoys awaited a decision by Moscow on Friday on the latest version of a European-Arab draft resolution endorsing an Arab League plan for Syria, and some diplomats said the Kremlin may go along with it.

A senior Western envoy said the council's 15 ambassadors had agreed on the new text on Thursday, but that the final decision rested with national capitals. "The Russians said ... on ambassadorial level ... they stand by the text ... and the Chinese said the same thing," the envoy said.

However, early word from Moscow was that Russia's leadership was not yet satisfied. Interfax news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov as saying the draft was "not enough for us to be able to support it in this form."

Morocco circulated a revised draft on Thursday after Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told a closed council session he would veto it if it were put to a vote on Friday with a phrase saying the body "fully supports" the Arab plan calling for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step aside, diplomats said.

Russia, a long-standing ally of Damascus, has so far led opposition to Security Council action on Syria out of concern it could be seen as promoting "regime change" there or even lead to Libya-style outside military intervention in the conflict.

The "fully supports" phrase remains in the text. But several diplomats said Churkin's veto threat had more to do with the timing than the substance of the resolution and predicted that the Russians likely would abstain or vote for the resolution.

"He made the threat but I don't think he'll necessarily have to follow through with it," a diplomat said on condition of anonymity. "We included some new language that Russia wanted."

Morocco's UN envoy, Mohammed Loulichki, told reporters after Thursday's meeting he would seek a vote on the amended draft resolution as soon as possible. French Ambassador Gerard Araud said the council may vote on the resolution as early as on Friday or Saturday.

A senior US official declined to predict what the final vote would be but said the majority of the council would vote in favor of it. "We are cautiously optimistic that we will have a very strong show of support for this resolution," the official said.

Moscow received the new draft resolution overnight and the government was expected to make a decision on whether to veto it in the course of the day, diplomats said.

If Moscow votes for the resolution, it likely will be adopted unanimously, as China, South Africa, India and Pakistan are expected to follow Moscow's lead, UN envoys said. An abstention from Moscow would allow the resolution to pass, although it would register a certain level of disapproval.

No authorization of military force

"My take is [the Russians] also realize that things have moved very fast in the last days, and that we might be in a kind of an endgame," said the senior Western envoy, who asked not to be identified. But he said it was difficult to predict what Moscow might decide to do.

The United Nations says more than 5,000 people have died in in attempts by Syrian government forces to crush 11 months of anti-Assad protests.

The latest draft includes changes made by Arab and European negotiators to meet some of Russia's concerns. It calls for a "Syrian-led political transition," does not criticize arms sales to Syria and leaves out some of the details of what the Arab plan entails, such as Assad transferring power.

Western envoys said they and the Arabs were trying to assure the Russians the resolution is not aimed at regime change in Syria or would lead to foreign military intervention. The new draft says explicitly that "nothing in this resolution authorizes measures under Article 42 of the (UN) Charter."

Article 42 is in Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which covers sanctions and authorization for the use of military force.

Diplomats said if Moscow continued to have problems with the draft, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton probably would take up the issue.

The draft does not threaten Syria with sanctions, also rejected by Russia, but includes a vague reference to possible "further measures" in the event of Syrian non-compliance.

"This is the kind of resolution that the entire council should support," the US official said, adding that Clinton and US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice were speaking to officials from council member states "to get a strong vote in the coming hours or days."

Moscow has been a strategic ally of Syria through its decades under Assad family rule and a major arms supplier to Damascus, and bristles at outsiders trying to dictate internal political change in Damascus.

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