The U.N. Security Council is trying again to reach agreement on a resolution condemning the violence in Syria, but members remain deeply divided over sanctions against President Bashar Assad’s regime.
The Europeans and Russians have revised their rival texts, which the council discussed behind closed doors Wednesday, but remain at odds over even threatening sanctions.
It took four months for the deadlocked council to finally issue a statement in August condemning the escalating violence in Syria. The Europeans, backed by the United States, quickly tried to press for a resolution calling for an immediate arms embargo and other sanctions aimed at stopping the government’s ongoing crackdown on opposition protesters.
But their initial draft resolution, circulated in late August, faced opposition from Russia, China, India, South Africa and Brazil, partly because they fear that it may be used as a pretext for armed intervention against Syria. They argue that the U.N. resolution authorizing the use of force to protect civilians in Libya has been misused by NATO to justify months of air strikes against Muammar Qadhafi’s regime, and now its remnants.
Now in its sixth month, the military crackdown, using tanks, snipers and mafia-like gunmen operating as hired guns for the regime, is increasingly being met by armed resistance from once-peaceful protesters. The government insists it is fighting thugs and religious extremists who are acting out a foreign conspiracy.
The new European draft circulated Tuesday by Britain, France, Germany and Portugal drops the demand for immediate sanctions in an attempt to win greater support in the Security Council.
It expresses “determination” to impose targeted sanctions if the Syrian government doesn’t comply with demands to immediately end all violence, allow fundamental rights and freedoms including free expression and peaceful assembly, lift all media restrictions, and allow unhindered access for human rights investigators.
France’s U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud told reporters as he headed into the council meeting that “we would want to see action very quickly, and if possible Friday.”
“The text we are presenting is without sanctions, which is from our point of view a very significant step, so I do hope that we reach compromise with all the members of the council,” he said.
The United States has imposed its own sanctions against Assad’s regime and wants the U.N. to join in.
“We want a resolution with teeth,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. “We want a resolution that makes absolutely clear to the Assad regime that the violence needs to end, that we must have international monitors in Syria and that there will be consequences.”
Nonetheless, Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin rejected the new European draft Wednesday, calling it “a continuation of the (Europeans’) openly declared policy of regime change” that encourages “destructive elements of the opposition” and violence to continue.
When asked whether dropping sanctions wasn’t enough, Churkin replied- Ha! We have seen this thing happen many times before especially in the situation of Libya.”
He said it’s important to determine how seemingly innocent language in the text can be interpreted and used.
“There are a number of things ... that we simply believe are extremely dangerous and is not the kind of approach for the situation in Syria,” Churkin said.
The new Russian text reaffirms “the need to resolve the current crisis in Syria peacefully, ruling out any military intervention from outside.” It expresses “grave concern at the situation in Syria” and “the potential for its further escalation.”