MOSCOW Russia signaled on Friday it could veto any U.N. Security Council resolution demanding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad resign and said an attempt to rush such a proposal to a vote is doomed to fail.
Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov's comments were a strong indication that Russia would be ready to block a new Western-Arab draft resolution that is intended to halt months of bloodshed in Syria and could be voted on next week.
"Any decision about a future political settlement in Syria must be made during the political process without ... preliminary conditions, and the demand for Assad's resignation is a preliminary condition," Interfax quoted Gatilov as saying.
"We cannot support a call to support Assad's departure in any U.N. Security Council resolution," said Gatilov, whose country is an old strategic ally of Syria and one of Assad's major arms suppliers.
The draft says the council supports an Arab League plan "to facilitate a political transition leading to a democratic, plural political system ... including through the transfer of power from the President and transparent and free elections."
Warning Western members of the council against pressing for a vote soon, Gatilov said "this would be doomed to fail because we have clearly expressed our opinion, as have our Chinese partners," according to Interfax.
Russia, China, the United States, Britain and France are permanent council members with veto power.
Earlier on Friday, state-run Itar-Tass quoted Gatilov as saying the draft contained "no fundamental consideration of our position" and lacked "key aspects that are fundamental to us."
Gatilov suggested Russia was unhappy that the draft did not rule out military intervention, and that it made a reference to sanctions already imposed on Syria by the Arab League.
Russia has warned it would not let any resolution endorsing military intervention pass in the Security Council and will not retroactively support Western or Arab sanctions on Syria.
Gatilov said Russia was concerned by a clause saying the Security Council would review Syria's implementation of the resolution after 15 days and "adopt further measures" if it has not complied. "What measures? That is our question," he said.
Russia has urged Assad to implement reforms faster to end 10 months of bloodshed, but says his opponents share much of the blame for violence and has refused to join other nations calling for him to step down.
Russia is becoming isolated in its support for Assad's government and is still delivering Syria weapons in defiance of U.S. calls for a moratorium on arms sales to Damascus.
Russia joined China in October in vetoing a European-drafted Security Council resolution condemning Assad's government for its crackdown on pro-democracy unrest that the United Nations says has killed more than 5,000 people, mostly civilians.
Gatilov said Russia's own draft resolution, which it submitted last month and revised earlier this month, remained on the table, suggesting it must not be superseded by the Western-Arab draft. Western diplomats have said Russia's draft was too easy on Assad's government.
(Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Mark Heinrich)