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January 31, 2012

Diplomats: Progress on Syria Resolution at UN

by Margaret Besheer

U.N. Security Council diplomats on Wednesday sounded cautiously optimistic for the first time that they might reach agreement on a resolution supporting an Arab League plan to end the violence in Syria.  But they acknowledged that key differences remain, as they left the negotiations.

The Security Council is considering a resolution sponsored by Morocco and supported by several Arab and Western countries that would endorse a proposal from the Arab League to try to end the nearly year-long political crisis in Syria in which more than 5,400 people have died.

On Tuesday, the Prime Minister of Qatar and the Arab League chief appealed to the council for their support.  Russia, a close ally of Syria, has been the main obstacle to winning the endorsement of the 15-member council.

Security Council ambassadors met Wednesday afternoon to negotiate several critical sticking points, including how the resolution would acknowledge the Arab League plan, which calls for a political transition with President Bashar al-Assad transferring power to a deputy.

British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant expressed the Western position, calling for full support for the plan. “For us, the most fundamental part of this text has always been supporting the Arab League initiative and that is our bedrock bottom line, and that is what the purpose of the text is and we will insist it is in the final version," he said.

But Russia, as well as some other Security Council members, would likely not go along with such an explicit endorsement of what they consider regime change.

Diplomats said other contentious issues include the idea of military intervention and any reference to the flow of arms to the Syrian government or the protesters.

Russia’s ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, struck a positive tone when he told reporters that there was progress during the negotiations and that he thinks council members have a much better understanding of “what needs to be done" for the council to "reach consensus.”

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice was more cautious. “It is way too soon in my judgment to know whether ultimately there will be agreement.  But I think people are in the spirit of rolling up their sleeves and getting to work in a serious manner," she said.

Britain’s ambassador said there was progress and a clear desire to try to draft a text that can be adopted by the end of this week.  He said talks will continue on Thursday.

During Tuesday’s ministerial-level Security Council meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told council members that they face a historic choice between supporting the Syrian people or becoming complicit in the continuing violence.