Clinton calls UNSC move on Syria 'positive step'

Russia envoy to UN says foreign group arming Syria opposition, which must be engaged to ensure Annan plan's success.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton 390 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Jason Reed)
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton 390 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jason Reed)
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday praised the UN Security Council for voicing united support for UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's bid to end the violence in Syria and urged Syrian President Bashar Assad to "take this path" out of the crisis.
"It is a positive step. The council has now spoken with one voice," Clinton said after the Security Council, including Russia and China, agreed on a statement backing the Annan plan.
"To President Assad and his regime we say, along with the rest of the international community: take this path, commit to it, or face increasing pressure and isolation," Clinton told reporters after a meeting with Afghanistan's foreign minister.
Western diplomats said the agreement on a statement voicing the "gravest concern at the deteriorating situation in Syria" should be a wake-up call for Assad, who has counted on support from Russia to fend off international criticism of his yearlong attempt to crush anti-government protests.
The statement threatens Syria with "further steps" if it fails to comply with Annan's six-point peace proposal, which calls for a cease-fire, political dialogue between government and opposition, and full access for aid agencies.
The Russian envoy to the United Nations said it was crucial to engage the Syrian opposition, which he warned is being "illegally" armed by a foreign group, in talks to help end violence in Syria, Al Jazeera reported
Vitaly Churkin, the Russian Ambassador to the UN, was commenting on a resolution passed by the UN Security Council earlier Wednesday, which backed a peace plan proposed by the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria Kofi Annan.
Churkin said engaging the "opposition and opposition armed groups" will be critical for the success of the peace plan, especially given the elusive success of attempts to foster dialogue between these groups and the government in Damascus.
The Russian ambassador also expressed concern that a foreign element was "illegally" sending weapons to the armed opposition.
"We are disturbed about that," Al Jazeera quoted Churkin as saying. "There is a need to stop violence stop fighting and sending in weapons isn’t helpful."
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The US-European push for a council statement backing Annan's mission came after Russia and China twice vetoed resolutions condemning Assad's assault on demonstrators, which the United Nations says has killed well over 8,000 civilians.
Unlike resolutions, which are legally binding and need nine votes in favor and no vetoes from the five permanent council members to pass, statements are generally non-binding but require unanimous support from the council.
Although the statement does not explicitly back an Arab League plan calling for Assad to step aside, it does include Annan's call for a political process that echoes that plan.
It voices "full support for the efforts of (Annan) to bring an immediate end to all violence and human rights violations, secure humanitarian access, and facilitate a Syrian-led political transition to a democratic, plural political system."
The statement also demands the Syrian government stop fighting first - something Annan and the West have called for.
"The Syrian government should immediately cease troop movements towards, and end the use of heavy weapons in, population centers, and begin pullback of military concentrations in and around population centers," it said.
Once the government forces stop fighting, Syrian authorities "should work with (Annan) to bring about a sustained cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties."