UNSC relaunches draft condemnation of Damascus

Security Council was briefed on latest events in Syria; Western diplomats hope critics have shifted position in light of recent Hama violence.

UN security Council 521 (photo credit: Reuters)
UN security Council 521
(photo credit: Reuters)
UNITED NATIONS  - Reacting to new bloodshed in Syria, European powers relaunched a dormant draft UN resolution to condemn Damascus for its crackdown on protesters, circulating a revised text to the Security Council at a meeting on Monday.
Following the hour-long closed-door meeting, several diplomats said that after months of deadlock over Syria in the council, the fresh violence appeared to be pushing the divided members towards some form of reaction.
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But envoys disagreed over whether the 15-nation body should adopt the Western-backed draft resolution or negotiate a less binding statement.
Germany requested the meeting after human rights groups said Syrian troops killed 80 people on Sunday when they stormed the city of Hama to crush protests amid a five-month-old uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The military offensive continued in Hama on Monday, residents said.
Practical council action on Syria, where rights groups say over 1,600 people have been killed since the uprising began, has until now been paralyzed by disagreements among members.
Western European countries first circulated a draft resolution two months ago but it went nowhere after Russia and China, both allies of Damascus, threatened to veto it. Temporary council members Brazil, India, Lebanon and South Africa also said they did not support it.
Critics have said they fear that even a simple condemnation could be the first step toward Western military intervention in Syria, as happened in Libya in March. US Ambassador Susan Rice described that as a "canard" and said the resolution contemplated no such thing.
Following a briefing on Syria by Oscar Fernandez Taranco, deputy head of the UN political department, all 15 council members spoke but the body took no immediate action, postponing discussion until Tuesday, diplomats said.
"I detected a certain convergence of thinking, concern about the escalating violence," Indian Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, this month's council president, told reporters. "The members of the council all felt that the council should address itself to the situation and pronounce itself if the need be."
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said: "I see some good ground for reaching agreement among council members to a good positive reaction from the Security Council." He suggested this could happen "even tomorrow."
But Churkin said he thought issuing a resolution was "somewhat excessive" and that a formal statement by the council president, calling for an end to violence but urging a peaceful political solution, would be "satisfactory."
Most diplomats have argued from the outset that a presidential statement, which unlike a resolution requires unanimity, could never be agreed by Lebanon, which is under strong Syrian influence. But Churkin said a statement could be drafted that Lebanon could accept.
One Western diplomat said the Europeans still believed a resolution was necessary, but another said the format could be decided later. Rice said she favored a resolution but "we wouldn't preclude anything at this point."
Earlier, Britain's UN Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said the mood could be changing following the latest bloodshed in Hama. "I think there are some indications that positions are shifting," he said, noting that Russia had issued a statement deploring the latest violence.
South African Ambassador Baso Sangqu described the latest events in Syria as "terrible" but said he could not spell out his country's position until he had studied the new draft.
Diplomats said the revised resolution was similar to its predecessor, updated to take in more recent events, and did not call for sanctions against Syria or a referral of Syrian leaders to the International Criminal Court. Those measures were demanded by rights group Amnesty International.