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UN Syria draft: US attempts to get Russia and China aboard

Published time: March 07, 2012 07:54
Edited time: March 08, 2012 00:13
A demonstrator punches through a portrait of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad during a protest outside the Syrian Embassy in London (Reuters / Luke MacGregor)

A demonstrator punches through a portrait of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad during a protest outside the Syrian Embassy in London (Reuters / Luke MacGregor)

The United States is pushing for a new UN resolution to resolve the Syrian crisis. A draft version for the first time addresses both the Assad government and armed opposition groups. Russia says the document requires further balance.

Despite the growing outrage in the Western world over the bloodshed in Syria, UN envoys have ruled out a Libya-style military intervention, saying it could trigger wider conflict in the Middle East.

The draft, debated on Tuesday by the Security Council demands "unhindered humanitarian access" and "condemns the continued widespread, systematic, and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the Syrian authorities and demands that the Syrian government immediately put an end to such violations".

The document is also calling on the Syrian government to free those detained without grounds and pull military and armored vehicles out of cities.

On their part, “the armed elements of the Syrian opposition” are called on “to refrain from all violence' only after the government forces implement the demand.

Some Western diplomats said the draft is not firm enough and expressed disappointment in it.

But at the same time it gives them reason to believe that Russia and China, which vetoed two previous resolutions, could approve the new one.

The draft reportedly attempts a more balanced approach in an effort to make Moscow and Beijing accept the resolution and therefore resolve the UN deadlock over Syria that has lasted for almost a year. Those supporting the new draft say they do not want to introduce it formally only to face a third veto.

Following a meeting behind closed doors, US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said: “I don't think you should expect anything specific.” Morocco's UN envoy Mohammed Loulichki, who currently chairs the body, called the atmosphere “promising,'' but added that no date has been set for another meeting on the US draft.

The reaction from the Russian envoy to the UN is unclear, but Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov noted the US draft needs to be further worked out, calling it a “slightly renewed version of the previous document” vetoed by Russia and China.

At the same time, the recent statement from by the Foreign Ministry reaffirms that Russia will continue to oppose strongly any attempt at foreign military intervention.

“We would like to warn our American and European partners from wishful thinking. Russia's stance on the Syrian settlement has never been subject to any short-term considerations and hasn't formed under the influence of electoral cycles, unlike that of some of our Western colleagues,'' the statement says.

As diplomats continue their battle over the Syrian crisis, President Bashar al-Assad shows no signs of retreat.

“The Syrian people, who have in the past managed to crush foreign plots…have again proven their ability to defend the nation and to build a new Syria through their determination to pursue reforms while confronting foreign-backed terrorism,'' Assad stated, as quoted by Syrian news agency SANA.

As the debate over Syria’s future continues, the UN has announced more than 7,500 people have been killed since the uprising against President Assad started in March 2011.

US takes more aggressive approach?

Meanwhile the Obama administration will reportedly make a shift towards a more aggressive policy towards the Assad regime. Last week a group of senior White House officials met to finalize a package of option for aiding Syrian opposition, both internal and external, according to a Foreign Policy report.

"These moves are going to invest the US in a much deeper sense with the opposition," one administration official told the magazine. "US policy is now aligned with enabling the opposition to overthrow the Assad regime. This codifies a significant change in our Syria policy."

Direct military intervention, the establishment of a no-fly zone or supply of arms to the opposition is still off the table. But now Washington does not plan to oppose publicly or privately other countries’ arming of the opposition, as it did before. Saudi Arabia promoted the supply of arms during the last meeting of the Friends of Syria group, saying it is “an excellent idea.”

The Obama administration allegedly plans to help the defense committee of the Syrian National Council (SNC), the Turkey-based group of the opposition. Washington hopes to solidify the body for a possible future move to aid it directly with arms and military support.

"The prevailing narrative is enabling the transition while keeping options open for reaching out to the armed opposition," an administration official told Foreign Policy. "There is recognition that lethal assistance to the opposition may be necessary, but not at this time."

Buffing the SNC’s military structures is an alternative to aiding the Free Syria Army (FSA), which does not take orders from the SNC in their guerilla war and terrorist attacks on loyalist Syrian forces. Washington is hesitant to deal with the FSA directly, fearing its lack of accountability and links to foreign extremist organizations like Al-Qaeda.

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