The U.N. Security Council, including Russia and China, has agreed to a statement on Syria that backs U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s bid to end violence that has brought the country to the brink of civil war, council diplomats said on Wednesday.
The statement also threatens Syria with “further steps” if it fails to comply with Annan’s six-point peace proposal, which calls for a cease-fire, political dialogue between the government and opposition, and full access for aid agencies.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he hoped a U.N. Security Council statement on Syria would be approved on Wednesday following a “consensus” on proposals to end the crisis there.
“Our partners from Western countries have asked for a little time-out, I am hoping that this time-out will be over today and the document will be adopted,” Lavrov said after meeting his German and Polish counterparts in Berlin.
Western powers on the U.N. Security Council late Tuesday diluted a draft statement backing U.N.-Arab League Syrian envoy Annan’s drive to end violence that has brought the country to the brink of civil war.
The 15-nation panel held two rounds of negotiations on a Western-drafted statement that would express “full support” for Annan’s peace efforts while threatening Damascus with “further steps” if it failed to comply with the council’s demands “in a timely manner,” council diplomats told Reuters.
A previous version of the statement had threatened Syria with new U.N. measures it Damascus failed to comply within seven days, which diplomats said Russia considered to be an “ultimatum.” Lavrov said Moscow could support a statement provided it contained no ultimatums.
The Western push for a “presidential statement” from the council backing Annan’s mission comes after Russia and China twice vetoed resolutions condemning Syria’s yearlong assault on demonstrators opposed to President Bashar al-Assad. The United Nations says over 8,000 civilians have been killed in the crackdown.
Western envoys said securing Russian backing for the U.N. statement would be a diplomatic blow for Moscow’s ally Assad.
After a two-hour closed-door negotiating session, Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin suggested to reporters that Moscow was prepared to back the Western-drafted statement.
“Some need instructions,” he said when asked why the council had not approved the statement. “We were ready to go.”
But a senior Western diplomat challenged Churkin’s remarks, saying it was the Russian envoy who pushed for a delay in the adoption of the statement. “He (Churkin) decided in the end that he wanted to wait until tomorrow morning,” the diplomat said.
If no one raises any objections by Wednesday morning, the statement will be automatically adopted without a vote under a process at the United Nations known as a “silence procedure.”
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said on Wednesday that Syria’s crisis was extremely dangerous and had “massive repercussions” for the the region and the world.
“We do not know how events will unfold. But we do know that we all have a responsibility to work for a resolution of this profound and extremely dangerous crisis,” Ban said in a speech in the Indonesian capital Jakarta.
“Our priorities are three: first an immediate end to the violence -- all violence -- and engage in inclusive political dialogue to shape the future of Syria as civilian people want to create, and thirdly we have to provide immediately and urgently humanitarian actions,” he said.
Meanwhile, Syria’s representative to the U.N. Bashar al-Jaafari complained that Syria is exposed to terrorist operations by “terrorist” groups. In a letter sent to the U.N. chief, obtained by Al Arabiya, Jaafari referred to the two bombings that hit Damascus on Saturday and the third blast that hit Aleppo on Sunday.
According to Jaafari’s letter, the terrorist operations come at a time when millions of Syrians are supporting the latest reforms applied by Syria and also coincided with the mission of Kofi Annan. Jaafari called on the U.N. to fight terror and block any financial support from reaching the terrorists under any cover.
Also up for automatic approval on Wednesday morning is a draft of informal remarks to the press that Syria’s close ally Russia asked the council to approve. Those remarks would have the council condemn bomb attacks last weekend in the cities of Damascus and Aleppo.
Indian Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri expressed optimism that the statement would be approved by the council. “Some people want to consult their capitals, but it will work, that's the important thing,” Puri told reporters.
Other diplomats said privately that Moscow or Beijing might tell their delegations to propose further changes to the statement.
If the statement is approved, it would be a further sign that Moscow, which has been Assad’s staunchest supporter since he began cracking down on anti-government protesters a year ago, is toughening its position on the Syrian conflict.
The core of the draft statement is Annan’s six-point peace proposal, which calls for a cease-fire, political dialogue between the government and opposition, and full access for humanitarian agencies. As Lavrov had demanded, the statement includes Annan’s proposal verbatim.
Western diplomats said privately that their push for a statement backing Annan highlighted their determination to break the impasse on the Security Council that has prevented it from taking any forceful action against Syria since Assad began cracking down on demonstrators.
Annan, a former U.N. secretary-general, on Friday urged the Security Council to overcome its deadlock and unify in support of his efforts to end the violence.
Unlike resolutions, which are legally binding and need nine votes in favor and no vetoes from the five permanent council members to pass, statements are generally non-binding but require unanimous support from the council.
The latest draft presidential statement is separate from a U.S.-drafted resolution calling on Syria to allow access to humanitarian aid workers in the country.
The last time the council passed a presidential statement on Syria was August 2011, although council members reached a rare unanimous agreement on informal remarks to the press on March 1 to rebuke Damascus for not allowing U.N. humanitarian aid chief Valerie Amos into the country.
Shortly after the council approved those remarks to the press, Amos was allowed to visit Damascus.
In Geneva, Annan briefed Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi on the mission in Damascus, U.N. spokeswoman Corinne Momal-Vanian said, according to AFP.
“Both men underscored the importance of a unified message from the international community,” Momal-Vanian said.
Separately, U.N. officials named former peacekeeping chief Jean-Marie Guehenno as a deputy to Annan in his mission to end the Syrian crisis.
French-born Guehenno joins former Palestinian diplomat Nasser al-Qudwa as Annan’s deputies on the tough mission.