UN Council Closer to Vote on Syrian Transition Resolution

The United Nations Security Council may vote as soon as tomorrow on a draft resolution that supports an Arab League plan to “facilitate” a political transition in Syria while removing all references to President Bashar al-Assad stepping aside.

The new draft, obtained today, was circulated last night and is the product of negotiations aimed at mollifying Russia, which had said the previous version was an endorsement of regime change. The new text scraps language about “formation of a national unity government” and “delegation by the president of Syria of his full authority to his deputy.”

Almost a year after the uprising against Assad began, Syria is at the center of a UN debate on how to stop a conflict that the world body says has killed more than 5,400 people and is evolving into a civil war. At stake is how much support to give the Arab League, the regional body that suspended Syria’s membership and imposed economic sanctions on the regime.

A vote may take place as soon as tomorrow or Feb. 6, French Ambassador Gerard Araud told reporters at the UN.

While Russia has yet to publicly react to the new draft, its ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, struck an optimistic note yesterday.

“We have a better understanding on what we can do to reach consensus,” he told reporters after three hours of negotiations.

Diplomats are “working very hard” Churkin said today, adding that the negotiations are “heavy going.”

In a further concession to the Russians, the draft has removed references “expressing grave concern at the continued transfer of weapons into Syria which fuels the violence” and calling on UN member states to “take necessary steps to prevent such flow of arms.”

Military Base

Russia, whose only military base outside the former Soviet Union is in Syria, has threatened to use its veto if the UN tries to force Assad from power. The Russian base is a naval maintenance and supply center at Tartus on the Mediterranean Sea.

Russia blocked a Security Council resolution once before, in October, when Western powers sought to hold the Syrian president responsible for violence.

The government in Moscow vowed to continue weapons sales to Syria and “rules out” the possible use of imported arms against protesters, Interfax reported today, citing Russia’s Defense Ministry.

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil El-Arabi, who traveled to New York this week to implore the UN’s decision-making arm to act, said the world body can pressure Assad to end his 11-month crackdown even if council members bow to Russian demands to weaken an Arab League resolution.

‘Under Great Pressure’

Syria’s authorities “are under great pressure now,” El-Arabi said. “They cannot go on forever.”

A UN resolution would pressure Assad’s government even if Russia removes references to sanctions and potential intervention, he said. “Russia does not want to be against the people.”

Violence in Syria escalated after Jan. 22 and Arab League observers suspended their mission because of “the grave deterioration of the situation,” the head of the mission, Mohammed al-Dabi, told reporters today in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital. His staff was protected by protesters who would form human shields during field visits, al-Dabi said.

-- Editors: Terry Atlas, Larry Liebert

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