Last Updated: Wed Jul 18, 2012 11:57 am (KSA) 08:57 am (GMT)

U.N. chief in China, Erdogan heads to Russia to seek tougher action on Syria

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (L) meets with China’s President Hu Jintao at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (Reuters)
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (L) meets with China’s President Hu Jintao at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (Reuters)

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan are attempting to convince both China and Russia to change their stance on Syria.

Ki-moon is expected to press China’s leaders Wednesday to back tougher action to stop violence in Syria before a Security Council showdown over a resolution threatening sanctions.

Ban will meet Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing before the vote on the Western resolution that links the renewal of a U.N. mission in Syria with a threat to impose sanctions if the regime does not pull back heavy weapons.

But it will be a difficult task for the U.N. secretary general to persuade Beijing, which has repeatedly warned against outside intervention in Syria, to back the action being pushed for by Western powers.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin was due Wednesday to meet Erdogan to discuss differences on Syria as U.N. Security Council prepared to vote on the conflict.

Russia and Turkey are still at odds over the ongoing violence between the regime of Bashar al-Assad and the armed opposition, which has claimed 17,000 lives since last spring, according to opposition monitors.

While Moscow has refused to support a tough resolution against Assad, Turkey has become one of its former ally’s harshest critics and Erdogan is expected to attempt to convince Putin to harden the Russian stance.

China and Russia

China, one of five veto-wielding members of the Security Council, has twice joined with President Bashar al-Assad’s main ally Russia in blocking resolutions at the council.

Ban has already urged China to use its influence to back a peace plan by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, who is calling on the Security Council to order “consequences” for any failure to carry out his six-point plan.

Assad has agreed to the plan, which includes the withdrawal of heavy weapons, but failed to carry it out.

As Ban headed for China, Beijing’s determination to stick to its guns was underlined when a top, state-run newspaper again warned against international intervention.

“The life of Syria’s current political leadership can only be determined by the Syrian people. This is an internal matter and the international community should respect that,” the People’s Daily said in an editorial.

Russia has branded as “blackmail” the bid to link renewal of the U.N. mission to the threat of sanctions, and had said it would block the new resolution, instead proposing its own draft.

But Moscow struck a more conciliatory tone on Tuesday after Annan met Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Putin vowed to do everything to support Annan’s plan for ending the violence, while Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he could “see no reason why we cannot also agree at the U.N. Security Council. We are ready for this.”

The current 90-day U.N. mission in Syria ends on Friday and if no resolution is passed by then, it would have to shut down this weekend, according to diplomats.

Following talks with Hu, Ban will also meet Vice President Xi Jinping -- set to become China’s president next year -- as well as top foreign policy advisor Dai Bingguo and Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, diplomats said.

Ban, who is officially in Beijing for a China-Africa summit, has said that international inaction on Syria would be giving “a license for further massacres.”

In Syria on Tuesday, troops blasted Damascus neighborhoods with helicopter gunships and tank fire, witnesses said, after rebels announced an escalation of their battle for control of the capital.

Fighting between Assad’s forces and rebels of the Free Syrian Army has raged in Damascus since Sunday, with some activists saying it marked a “turning point” in the 16-month revolt against the regime.

Syrian opposition warns

Syrians will seek new ways to confront Assad’s regime if the U.N. Security Council fails to threaten sanctions, the main Syrian opposition group said ahead of a vote showdown Wednesday between the major powers.

Representatives of the Syrian National Council (SNC) met ambassadors from the 15-nation Security Council, including Russian envoy Vitaly Churkin, in a bid to persuade them to back sanctions.

The group warned that it will seek alternative ways to defend civilians if the U.N. Security Council does not threaten sanctions over the 16-month-old conflict in which activists say more than 17,000 people have died.

Basma Kodmani, the SNC’s head of foreign affairs, said the western resolution was “a very last chance for breathing life” into the peace plan of U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.

“Should the current attempts fail, the Syrian National Council will explore other alternatives with international and regional friends in order to provide humanitarian protection to the Syrian people,” Kodmani told a press conference.

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