New Russian U.N. Syria draft leaves West confused

UNITED NATIONS Mon Jan 16, 2012 6:01pm EST

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Western diplomats said a new Russian draft resolution on the violence in Syria handed to the U.N. Security Council on Monday was confusing and did not make clear if Moscow would accept tough language demanded by the West.

They said experts from the 15 council members would meet on Tuesday to discuss the Russian text, an amalgam of rival wording proposals. It is the third version that Moscow has presented in the past month.

Council members have been divided for months over the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, with Western countries pushing for strong condemnation of the government's bloody crackdown but Russia seeking to shield its ally Damascus.

In October, Russia and China vetoed a European-drafted resolution that threatened possible sanctions. Russia presented its own draft on December 15 and Western countries agreed to discuss and negotiate it, but there has been little progress since then.

Western diplomats have said they cannot accept Russian wording that assigns equal blame to both government and opposition for the 10 months of violence in Syria the United Nations says has killed more than 5,000 people, mostly civilians.

They have accused Russia of failing to negotiate seriously, in a bid to buy time for Damascus. Russia, for its part, has said it wants to avoid any resolution that could pave the way for Western intervention in Syria, as happened in Libya.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the Security Council on Monday to handle Syria "in a coherent manner."

The text circulated on Monday, obtained by Reuters, ran to 10 pages, compared with two for Russia's last draft on December 23. But that reflected the new version's page layout and the fact that it incorporated a string of alternative paragraphs proposed by European countries, with no sign that Russia accepted them.

One paragraph, for instance, demands that the Syrian government "immediately put an end to attacks ... against those exercising their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association." The draft ascribes the wording to France and Portugal without making clear if Moscow will agree.

Other paragraphs echo earlier Russian drafts in calling for an end to violence by all sides, backing a peace initiative by the Arab League, which has sent a monitoring mission to Syria, and urging Damascus to carry out promised reforms.

One Western diplomat said the latest text might only amount to a "slight tweak" to earlier Russia drafts. "I'm not sure any of the amendments are highly significant," he said.

He and other Western diplomats said they hoped to know more after Tuesday's meeting of experts - U.N. jargon for mid-ranking diplomats authorized to hammer out wording but not make policy decisions. "We'll have to go through it and work out where we go from here," the diplomat said.

(Reporting By Louis Charbonneau and Patrick Worsnip; Editing by Philip Barbara)