UNITED NATIONS – Russia on Tuesday proposed a UN Security Council resolution on Syria that would extend the UN mission in the conflict-stricken country without any threat of sanctions, diplomats said.
The resolution was sent to the council’s other 14 members ahead of a briefing on Wednesday by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan on efforts to revive his peace plan, Russia’s deputy UN envoy Igor Pankin told reporters.
Russia’s move is the opening round in a potentially tense diplomatic battle at the Security Council that must decide the future of the UN observer mission in Syria by July 20.
Russia is the main ally of President Bashar al-Assad and has fiercely resisted international action against the Damascus government. The United States and European powers want sanctions against Assad over the conflict, in which activists say more than 17,000 people have died.
Pankin said the Russian resolution “is aimed at providing further support to the efforts of Kofi Annan and the implementation of his plan.”
The draft proposes extending the UN Supervision Mission in Syria for another three months. The UNSMIS mandate ends on July 20.
It also backs a proposal by UN leader Ban Ki-moon that the UN operation take on a more political mission and cut back the number of military observers.
The draft “strongly urges” all sides to immediately cease violence and calls for “urgent” and “immediate” implementation of Annan’s plan.
But there is no threat of action against Assad and the Syrian opposition, even though Annan has said there should be “consequences” for not carrying out his plan.
The Russian draft commits the Security Council “to assess the implementation of this resolution and to consider further steps as appropriate.”
Almost 300 UN unarmed military observers have been in Syria since April monitoring a ceasefire that has never taken hold. The observers suspended patrols on June 16 because of the growing danger.
Western nations have been demanding pressure on Assad to carry out Annan’s peace plan and are likely to reject the Russian text.
“It’s basically a rollover,” said a diplomat from another Security Council country of the Russian draft. “At minimum, it needs to be combined with some pressure.”
The United States and European powers have drafted their own resolution, but have not yet decided whether to circulate it to the council.
The Western states had wanted application of the Annan peace plan to be made mandatory under Chapter VII of the UN Charter so that follow-up action, including sanctions, could at least be threatened.
Russia and China have twice used their powers as permanent members of the Security Council to veto resolutions on Syria that hinted at sanctions.
Meanwhile, the United States said Tuesday it is aware of a Russian naval flotilla headed for a Syrian port but does not yet see cause for concern.
“We currently have no reason to believe this move is anything out of the ordinary but we refer you to the Russian government for more details,” Erin Pelton, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, says.
Russia has sent a naval flotilla of seven warships led by an anti-submarine destroyer to its naval base at the Syrian port of Tartus, the Interfax news agency reported Tuesday.
Moscow has been bitterly criticized by the West for failing to cut military ties with Syria despite the conflict between the regime and opposition rebels that has claimed thousands of lives.
At the State Department, spokesman Patrick Ventrell said Washington had seen reports citing Russian authorities saying the ships will enter the port of Tartus for refueling “and that isn’t related to the conflict in Syria.”
“We, of course, hope that’s true,” Ventrell said, adding: “Obviously, one thing is refueling and an entire different thing is resupply.”
On June 30, the five UN Security Council members — the United States, China, Russia, France and Britain — as well as Turkey and countries belonging to the Arab League agreed in Geneva to a plan for a political transition in Syria.
It did not make an explicit call for President Bashar al-Assad to quit, but the West and the opposition made clear they saw no role for him in a unity government.
Russia said Tuesday that it wanted to host a new meeting of foreign powers on the Syria crisis but stressed that the talks should not decide Assad’s fate.
The announcement came after Moscow said Monday it would not sign new weapons contracts with Damascus until the situation in Syria calms down.
Source: Middle East Online