The U.N. Security Council has overcome some of its divisions on Syria and expressed its united support for the mission of the U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan. The call for Syrian cooperation comes after months of deadlock within the council on how to respond to the year-old Syrian crackdown on dissent.
After two vetoes from Russia and China in the past five months blocking council action on Syria, Wednesday’s pronouncement had the air of a breakthrough about it.
The Security Council backed a French-drafted statement which includes language that had been previously contentious, including references to a “political transition” in Syria, and a commitment to “further steps” by the council if necessary.
Known as a presidential statement, it requires consensus of all 15 members but does not carry the legally binding weight of a Security Council resolution. It is viewed as a serious message from the council.
British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, who holds the council presidency this month, told reporters the statement is an “important sign” that the council is united behind Mr. Annan’s efforts.
“This sends precisely the strong and united message to the Syrian government and all other actors in Syria that they need to respond - and respond quickly and immediately - to the six-point plan that has been presented by Mr. Kofi Annan in Damascus,” said Lyall Grant.
That six-point plan includes the immediate cessation of violence, the pulling back of Syrian security forces from population centers, the release of arbitrarily detained persons and the implementation of a daily two-hour humanitarian pause to allow in relief supplies and assist the wounded.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Syrian ally Moscow is pleased with both the presidential statement and the simultaneous adoption of a press statement condemning the “terrorist” bombings that occurred in Damascus and Aleppo in recent days.
“We are very pleased that the Security Council has finally chosen to take a pragmatic look at the situation in Syria," Churkin said. "And we are very pleased that we have a process which we hope will continue and will bring about a settlement of the crisis in Syria, and will lead to an important Syrian-led political process in the country.”
But he rejected reporters’ suggestions that this might mark a shift in Russia’s position regarding its longtime ally.
Churkin said Moscow’s stance remains the same - it wants to see an end to the violence and a move toward a Syrian-led political dialogue.
While he did not allude to Russia’s arms sales to the Syrian government, he did criticize those parties who he said are arming the opposition, saying it is “very unhelpful” and is pushing the crisis in the “opposite” direction.
Because of the Security Council’s previous deadlock over Syria, the U.N. General Assembly stepped-in in February and authorized the secretary-general to appoint a special envoy for Syria. Working with the Arab League, Ban Ki-moon appointed his predecessor, Mr. Annan, as mediator.
Mr. Annan traveled to Damascus and presented the government with his six proposals for ending the crisis. But despite his efforts, and those of his small team currently in Syria, violence has continued unabated, with government forces pounding opposition positions in several cities.