Arab leaders made their case before the United Nations Security Council that Russia shouldn’t block a draft resolution backing their plan to get Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step aside.
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil El-Arabi and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani addressed the 15-member council today in New York in the presence of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her French and U.K. counterparts.
The Arab League is turning to the UN after its efforts and initiatives became “useless because the Syrian government failed to make any sincere effort to cooperate with us and unfortunately the only solution available to it is to kill its own people,” al Thani told an audience of UN ambassadors and at least four foreign ministers.
Syria is at the center of talks at the world body almost a year after an uprising began against Assad. The UN says more than 5,400 people have been killed in the conflict, which is evolving into a civil war.
The European Union and its allies have stepped up pressure on Russia to overcome its resistance to an Arab initiative for Assad to hand over power to a deputy within two months.
“It is time for the international community to put aside our own differences and send a clear message of support to the people of Syria,” Clinton said in a direct appeal to Russia.
Failure of Responsibility
“The alternative -- spurning the Arab League, abandoning the Syrian people, emboldening the dictator -- would compound this tragedy, mark a failure of our shared responsibility, and shake the credibility of the United Nations,” she told the council.
Russia counters that the plan imposes regime change and has threatened to use its Security Council veto. It did that in October when, together with China, it blocked a draft UN resolution calling on Assad to stop killing protesters.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking from Sydney, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that it is “up to the Syrians themselves to decide how to run the country.”
The latest draft of a Western-backed Arab League resolution on Syria seeks to assure Russia that military intervention isn’t planned to force out Assad.
“Nothing in this resolution compels states to resort to the use of force or the threat of force,” says the draft, obtained today.
No Foreign Intervention
“I should like to stress” that the road map adopted on Jan. 22 should “in no way be interpreted as calling on the Syrian president to renounce power,” El-Arabi said, citing a pledge made to him by Assad in July that he would put his deputy, Farouk al-Sharaa, in charge. “This is very similar to the call of the Arab League as of now.”
Syria’s Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari, Assad’s sole representative at today’s meeting, accused foreign powers of meddling.
“Unbridled tendency by foreign states to interfere in our internal and external affairs through various mean is neither sudden nor novel,” he said.
To mollify Russia, which insists a peace plan can’t be imposed on a sovereign state, the draft underwent several rewrites to deal with accusations that Western powers were seeking a Libya-style overthrow of an autocrat.
A call for member states to prevent arms sales to Syria was dropped, as Russia sells weapons to the regime, and language that urged Assad to relinquish power was replaced with a call for him to delegate power to his deputy, a move that could leave Assad the nominal leader even if devoid of powers.
“Can any member of this council today claim to be in a better position to judge how best to support peace and stability in Syria than these Arab nations themselves?” U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague told the council. “The resolution does not propose imposing change on Syria from outside, it calls for the Syrian people to be allowed to make their choices.”
-- Editors: Larry Liebert, Terry Atlas
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