U.N. Tentatively Backs a Plan for #Syria
Published: February 2, 2012
UNITED NATIONS — Security Council ambassadors reached a wobbly consensus on Thursday backing an Arab League plan for political change in
, after they dropped a specific reference to President Bashar al-Assad’s ceding of power.
The resolution’s passage is far from assured, and it still must be approved by the governments of the 15 member states, including Russia, which rejected a previous resolution in October.
In hopes of persuading the Russians and other skeptics, Western and Arab ambassadors also jettisoned calls for a voluntary arms embargo and sanctions.
Although diplomats acknowledged that those changes diluted the pressure being brought to bear on Damascus, they said they wanted to concentrate on supporting the Arab League in pushing Syria toward democratic transition.
It was unclear whether the changes would be enough to persuade Russia, Syria’s ally and its major weapons supplier, to back the resolution. But the ambassadors said they planned to send the resolution overnight to their governments to see if they would move it toward a vote.
“What the Arab League is seeking from the Security Council is strong support, and that is what we concluded,” Mohammed Loulichki, the permanent representative of Morocco, which drafted the resolution, said in a brief interview. “In the negotiations, of course, we could not translate all the elements, but they are well known by everybody.”
Emerging grimly from four hours of negotiations, the ambassadors all repeated the same line, which some acknowledged they had agreed to tell the news media. They avoided saying they had reached an agreement, instead emphasizing that there was a consensus document that they were sending to their governments for approval.
“There are some still-complicated issues that our capitals will have to deliberate on and provide each of us with instructions on,” said Susan E. Rice, the American ambassador.
Over the past two days, the toughest arguments have surrounded a paragraph that defines the Council’s support for political change in Syria.
The draft being sent to the various capitals, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, said that the Council “fully supports” the Arab League plan. Three clauses that endorsed specific aspects of the plan — including that Mr. Assad delegate his authority to his vice president to speed a transition to democracy — were removed.
But Arab and Western diplomats said the essential idea remained, even if it was not spelled out. In addition, the words “Syrian-led” were inserted to denote that outsiders should not interfere in the political transition.
The arguments about that paragraph went back and forth all afternoon, with Ambassador Vitaly I. Churkin of Russia describing the negotiations as a “roller coaster.”
Asked if Russia could live with the “fully supports” language, Mr. Churkin sidestepped the question. “The end result is that we do have a text which we are going to report to our capitals, and we will see what the outcome will be,” he told reporters. “I will be happy if we have a process that will be successful.”
Russia had vowed to veto any resolution that supported removing the Assad government or that might lead to outside military intervention.
The Arab League plan calls for Mr. Assad to delegate his authority to his vice president, paving the way for a national unity government formed with the opposition within two weeks that would lead to a new constitution and new elections.
Diplomats said overcoming that apparent contradiction required a certain constructive ambiguity, without leaving the resolution open to wide interpretation.
The disagreements on Thursday centered on whether the Council was actually endorsing the political transition sought by the Arab League, or whether it was merely agreeing to support the Arab League’s work in carrying out the plan. The wording had to bolster the League’s efforts in seeking a democratic transition without seeming to demand that the government be removed, the diplomats said.
“I hope people will not interpret it in a different way,” Mr. Loulichki said, meaning anything other than support for the League’s plan.
The agreement reached was nothing if not fragile. Winning over Russia was a key step because it is one of the five permanent members of the Council with veto power, but other envoys, like those of India and South Africa, were not present when the consensus was reached.
“Nobody is really sure it is going to hold,” said one diplomat involved in the negotiations. “It is right on the margin.”
The Council has failed to pass any resolution regarding the situation in Syria since March, when the government in Damascus began the violent suppression of protests against Mr. Assad’s rule. Russia and China vetoed the last such attempt in October, even after United Nations ambassadors had reached an agreement.
The new resolution condemns the violence on both sides, but it also would adopt wholesale the steps to end the spiraling bloodshed that the Arab League has been demanding since November. Those steps include ending all violence; releasing detained protesters, who are believed to number in the thousands; withdrawing all Syrian forces from civilian areas; and guaranteeing the right to peaceful demonstrations.
While the Assad government had previously agreed to these measures, it has virtually ignored them, and whether their repetition in a Security Council resolution will stem the escalating violence is uncertain.