Feb. 3 (Bloomberg) -- Three days of negotiations on Syria at the United Nations Security Council failed to persuade veto- wielding Russia to back an Arab League plan to end the bloodshed in the Middle East nation.
“This is not done,” U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice told reporters yesterday in New York. “There are some still- complicated issues that our capitals will have to deliberate on and provide each of us with instructions.”
Almost a year after the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began, the UN is debating how to stop a conflict that it 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, which imposed economic sanctions on the regime and has called on Assad to step aside.
The death toll in Syria rose to 14 today, Al Arabiya television said. Yesterday, security forces fired at protesters and killed at least 17 people, the activist group General Committee of the Syrian Revolution reported on its website.
Morocco, the only Arab nation on the UN council, circulated a final draft to put to a vote, a sign the Arab League and their Western allies are unwilling to make any more concessions and may dare Russia to use its veto. Talks will be taken up now by leaders of UN members in their respective capitals.
In a last-ditch effort to win Russian acceptance, Arab and European Union negotiators made minor modifications to placate concerns that the proposal still endorses regime change. Russia’s only military base outside the former Soviet Union is in Syria, and it sells weapons to Assad’s government.
The council still “fully supports” a decision by the regional body to “facilitate” a political transition, yet added that it must be “Syrian-led,” according to a copy of the draft resolution obtained yesterday. A previous version of the draft had already stripped all references to Assad delegating “full powers” to his deputy.
The new draft also says there be no “prejudging the outcome” of the political process and explicitly says “nothing in this resolution authorizes” military action, addressing Russian concerns over last March’s UN authorization of a no-fly zone over Libya that was interpreted to justify NATO military strikes that helped bring down Muammar Qaddafi’s regime.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov may have the final word. They will have the opportunity to discuss the latest draft when they attend a gathering of top national security officials in Munich this weekend.
Arab leaders have started to lose patience with UN deliberations and Russian reluctance to sign the draft.
“The Arab League can’t compromise on some points,” such as its request that the UN back its road map for a transfer of power in Syria, Qatar’s prime minister, Hamad Bin Jasem al- Thani, told Al Jazeera television yesterday. “If there is any compromise, we told them they can use the veto; we will not accept any blurry resolutions,”
Russia has blocked a Security Council resolution once before, in October, when Western powers sought to hold the Syrian president responsible for violence.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters negotiations yesterday were “a rollercoaster.” Indian Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri said the talks hadn’t gone well.
Colombia’s UN ambassador, Nestor Osorio, left the meeting early and said “no white smoke,” a reference to the signal sent from the Sistine Chapel chimney when a pope is elected.
--With assistance from Nadeem Hamid in Washington. Editors: Jim Rubin, John Brinsley