France to detail U.N. Security Council plan for Syria

PARIS Wed Aug 1, 2012 2:47pm EDT

PARIS (Reuters) - France said as it took over the month-long rotating chair of the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday it will shortly outline its plans for a new push by the body to solve a diplomatic impasse over the worsening conflict.

The French government has already said it will call by the end of this week for an urgent meeting of the United Nations' Council, likely at ministerial level, following calls from President Francois Hollande for swift action.

France's ability to break the deadlock may be limited however, as China and Russia block Western efforts to step up sanctions against President Bashar al-Assad, but also because much of the French establishment is taking a summer vacation.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was expected to take a summer break in August but he would be in close touch with his office and any time away should not affect the schedule of the Security Council, a spokeswoman said.

"In theory, he will take a vacation. He's staying in France and can always be summoned. It's not a problem in itself," the spokeswoman said.

Fabius is talking regularly with France's main partners in the Syria crisis, such as the Arab League, she said.

"The details of a Security Council action under the French presidency will be outlined shortly," the foreign ministry said on Wednesday in a regular online briefing.

Western and Arab powers have failed to convince Moscow and Beijing to drop their opposition to tougher sanctions against Assad, creating a diplomatic stalemate Paris hopes to break.

Fighting has reached a new level of intensity in the 17-month crisis as government troops and rebel fighters battle for control of Aleppo, Syria's commercial capital, and questions grew over the whereabouts of Assad.

AUGUST SLOWDOWN

France's August chairmanship of the U.N. Council begins as many European leaders depart on holiday, making it potentially more difficult to reunite key players on the Council.

The Syria crisis is a first big test of Hollande's foreign policy credentials that risks comparisons with his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy who spearheaded the West's military intervention in Libya just over a year before he lost power in May.

A French call for a new Security Council meeting will most likely come after Thursday, when the U.N. General Assembly is set to vote on a draft resolution that voices concern over the violence in Syria, which human rights officials say has killed more than 17,000 people since March 2011.

That resolution would also have the assembly "deploring the Security Council's failure to agree on measures to ensure the Syrian authorities' compliance with its decisions" calling for an end to the violence.

France said on Monday that a new ministerial meeting of the Council would keep the pressure on Russia and China and ensure all members were up to date with developments on the ground.

"A new ministerial meeting would maintain high-level engagement, reinforce dialogue with our partners, Russia and China in particular, and seek progress in resolving this matter," the foreign ministry said.

Critics on the right and left lashed out on Wednesday against France's lack of leadership on a crisis in a region where it has strong historic ties.

The secretary general of Sarkozy's conservative UMP party, Jean-Francois Cope, decried on Europe 1 radio what he called France's "deafening silence" on the continued bloodshed, noting the previous government had not waited to hold the Security Council chair before leading a NATO intervention in Libya.

Left-wing celebrity philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, who was Sarkozy's main advisor through the Libya crisis, said France needed to "put Russia and China's backs against the wall".

"Whatever happens, military intervention is inevitable," Levy also told Europe 1 radio.

(Reporting By Alexandria Sage; Editing by Jon Hemming)

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