Arab and Western nations are planning a diplomatic push at the United Nations to persuade Russia to back the Arab League’s call for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to relinquish power.
Qatar, Morocco, the U.S. and the U.K. are among the nations trying to overcome Russian resistance to sanctioning Syria by promoting a UN Security Council draft resolution that has strong Arab backing, according to a UN diplomat who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record.
The measure “condemns the continued and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms” by Syrian authorities and calls for the Assad regime to implement Arab League resolutions for a “political transition,” according to a copy of the document obtained by Bloomberg.
“We are going to present all Arab resolutions, including the one from two days ago, to the Security Council so the highest authority in the world can adopt them,” Qatar Prime Minister Hamad Bin Jasim Bin Jaber al Thani said in an interview with Al Jazeera television yesterday.
Russia provides both political support and arms to Syria. Russia and China, veto-wielding members of the Security Council, blocked a European-led Oct. 4 attempt to sanction Syria in response to the regime’s crackdown on protesters.
The draft resolution was produced during discussions between the U.K., U.S., France and Arab nations, as Russia indicated its growing frustration with Assad.
“It’s big if the Russians sign on to it,” said Andrew Tabler, a Syria analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a research group.
The first response from Russia was not encouraging. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, a former Russian ambassador at the UN, said today after meeting in Moscow with his Turkish counterpart that Russia continues to oppose calls for the UN to back sanctions against Syria.
Syria rejected a critical Arab League report and Persian Gulf states decided to withdraw from the league’s observer mission. The league has asked other Arab countries to provide replacements, Egypt’s state-run Middle East News Agency reported today. Syria approved the league’s request to extend the monitoring to Feb. 24, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported yesterday.
The Arab League compiled a report after sending observers to Syria on Dec. 26 to ensure Assad stuck to his pledge to withdraw security forces from cities, release political prisoners and allow anti-government demonstrations.
The league’s plan, approved Jan. 22 in Cairo, calls for the government and opposition to start a dialogue within two weeks and form a national unity government within two months. The draft Security Council resolution notes Arab League sanctions against Syria and encourages other countries to follow suit.
“I hope it will be a game-changer,” said Peter Wittig, Germany’s ambassador to the UN. “It remains to be seen, first of all, if we can agree and if we can recover unity here in the Council.”
Among the 15 member countries on the Security Council, the U.S. and the Europeans represented by the U.K., France, Portugal and Germany favor a resolution with sanctions. In the opposing camp Russia is joined by China, South Africa, India and Brazil.
‘Open the Door’
“If approved, it would open the door to putting UN sanctions on Syria,” Tabler said in an interview yesterday.
The Qatari Prime Minister told Doha-based Al Jazeera that Arab countries “didn’t ask the United Nations for a military intervention. We only ask it to adopt and support the Arab decisions.”
Russia has been wary of any UN-backed use of military action, such as the operation that eventually helped topple Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.
Yesterday, Kremlin envoy to Africa and the Middle East Mikhail Margelov said Russia is losing confidence in the possibility of a negotiated outcome in Syria. Assad hasn’t responded to efforts to promote a peaceful solution to the 10-month-old unrest, Margelov said in a telephone interview.
“We don’t see any willingness, either from the authorities or the protesters, to reach an agreement,” Margelov said.
Russia presented its own UN draft resolution earlier that demanded all parties immediately stop the violence. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was among the leaders who criticized the document for its seeming parity between the regime and protesters.
Officials at the U.S. Mission to the UN had no comment.
The new UN draft calls on all sides to halt attacks. Even so, Jon Alterman, who directs the Middle East Program at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, said it remains unlikely that Russia will back the draft resolution.
“It’s hard to imagine either the Chinese or Russians signing on to this,” Alterman said.
He cited the two countries’ ties to Syria and their concerns that Iran, a close Syrian ally, would become isolated if the Assad regime were toppled.
The U.K., France and the U.S. are trying to arrange briefings by the Qatari prime minister and the Arab League president for the 15-member Security Council, according to the UN diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks are private.
Even if the resolution does get approval, “it won’t stop the killing,” Tabler said.