UN vote on Syria mission faces Russia doubts

Posted at 04/14/12 8:21 AM

UNITED NATIONS - The UN Security Council set a vote Saturday on a Western-drafted resolution allowing a ceasefire observer mission in Syria even though Russia's support was in doubt.

The United States called for the vote after a second day of wrangling over security guarantees for the first 30 unarmed military monitors who UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan wants in Syria early next week.

Russia opposed the council demanding that President Bashar al-Assad carry out a commitment to withdraw troops and heavy weapons from Syrian cities.

Russia's UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin said he was not "completely satisfied" with the talks held at the UN on Friday. Russia and China have vetoed two previous Security Council resolutions on Syria.

Negotiations had been "rather difficult," he said while insisting that Russia wants a vote on Saturday that allows the Syrian ceasefire to be "reinforced."

Neither the United States nor its allies would say that the resolution would escape a new veto.

"It would be wise not to make predictions," said US ambassador Susan Rice. "We have been to this movie so many times."

"Russia's vote remains uncertain," said a Security Council diplomat.

The United States will send a new version of the resolution it drafted with Britain and France to the other council members late Friday and national governments will then decide whether to back the text.

The UN eventually wants to have at least 200 monitors in Syria where it says well over 9,000 people have been killed since an uprising against Assad started 13 months ago.

As well as approval for the monitors, Annan also asked the council to call on Assad to carry out all commitments under the envoy's six-point peace plan, including withdrawing troops and heavy weapons from Syrian cities.

The United States with its allies and Russia put rival resolutions up for a vote by the council. Only a vote on the US version has been scheduled so far.

Both drafts authorize the deployment of up to 30 unarmed military observers in Syria.

But a text proposed by the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Morocco and Colombia demanded "full, unimpeded, and immediate freedom of movement" for the observers.

It also said Assad must "implement visibly" commitments he made to Annan and would force the council to "consider further steps" if Syria does not carry out the promised actions.

Russia submitted a shorter version of the same text taking out the demand for "unimpeded" access for monitors and the warning of new measures. It also takes out a condemnation of human rights abuses in Syria.

A diplomat in the negotiations said Russia, the last major ally of Assad, had been "haggling over every phrase" in the draft text.

Churkin said Russia wanted a brief resolution to get "some boots on the ground" and then negotiate the mandate for the full mission.

Despite their past vetoes on Syria, Russia and China have strongly committed to Annan's six-point peace plan and say they are putting increased pressure on Damascus.

The United States and European powers say however that there must be specific security guarantees and terms set out to the Syrian government before the advance mission leaves.

"This advance team should go with the same mandate as the full observation mission. We cannot accept that they go with weaker rules," said a Western diplomat in the talks.

The Security Council has passed three "presidential statements" but no formal resolution on Syria since the uprising against Assad started in mid-March last year.

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