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U.S. urges UN council to end "neglect," act on Syria

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States together with its allies and a Syrian opposition group all urged the U.N. Security Council on Monday to end its “neglect” of the violence raging in Syria and rapidly endorse an Arab League plan for a political transition there.

“We have seen the consequences of neglect and inaction by this council over the course of the last 10 months, not because the majority of the council isn’t eager to act - it has been,” said Washington’s U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice.

“But there have been a couple of very powerful members who have not been willing to see that action take place,” she told reporters. “That may yet still be the case.”

Western officials were discussing the issue on the eve of a meeting by the 15-nation Security Council to consider the Arab plan in the face of reluctance by Russia, an ally of the Syrian government and a veto-holder on the council, which has demanded changes to the proposed resolution.

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby and Qatar’s prime minister are due to plead with the council on Tuesday to back the plan for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to transfer powers to his deputy to prepare for elections.

Western countries are deploying their big guns to try to overcome Russian objections, with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, British Foreign Secretary William Hague and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe due to attend the session.

Rice’s complaint about some countries reluctance to act referred to Russia and China, which vetoed a Security Council resolution in October that would have condemned Syria for its bloody crackdown on anti-government protests and threatened it with possible sanctions.

Rice added that there was no need for “an extended negotiation” on the new European-Arab draft resolution endorsing the Arab plan aimed at ending the crisis, which has led to thousands of civilian deaths.

Clinton also urged the council to act swiftly.

“The Security Council must act and make clear to the Syrian regime that the world community views its actions as a threat to peace and security,” she said in a statement. “The violence must end, so that a new period of democratic transition can begin.”

In Paris, a French diplomatic source said what Juppe wanted “is that this visit at least speeds up negotiations.”


The head of the opposition Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalioun, said he had met with Russian officials in New York and would meet with Rice later on Monday. Germany’s U.N. mission said Ghalioun also met with Ambassador Peter Wittig in New York.

“Clearly the Russians are not happy with our position asking for Assad to step down before any negotiation, but our position is based on the will of the Syrian people,” he said.

Ghalioun also urged the council to support the European-Arab draft, saying it was high time for it to act. “The inaction of the international community has only encouraged the Assad regime to continue killing innocent protesters,” he said.

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said last week that he was willing to engage on the European-Arab draft, which Morocco submitted to the council. But while he did not explicitly threaten to use his veto, he said the text was unacceptable in its current form.

Diplomats said Elaraby would be meeting with Churkin in New York to explain to him that vetoing the draft resolution would be tantamount to vetoing the Arab world.

A vote on the draft resolution is unlikely before Thursday or Friday, Western diplomats said on condition of anonymity.

Russia sought on Monday to avert a swift council vote, saying it wanted to study recommendations from Arab observers in Syria before discussing the league’s plan. Russia also said Damascus had agreed to take part in talks in Moscow, but a senior figure in the Syrian opposition said it would not attend.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Clinton had been trying unsuccessfully to connect with Lavrov.

“The secretary, frankly, has been trying to get Foreign Minister Lavrov on the phone for about 24 hours,” she said in Washington. “That’s proven difficult.”

As street battles rage in Syria, Nuland said the suspension of an Arab League monitoring mission over the weekend due to the worsening security climate may have negative consequences.

“We are gravely concerned that as these Arab League monitors have pulled out, the Syrian regime has taken this as an excuse to just let loose in horrific ways against innocents,” she said.

Rice said the resolution was “quite straightforward” and made no reference to the use or threat of force. Russia has said NATO countries distorted a March 2011 council resolution on Libya to help rebels topple the government of Muammar Gaddafi.

While few expect Russia to support the Syria resolution, Western officials said they were hopeful Moscow might be persuaded to abstain, allowing it to pass. The question was what changes would be needed in the text to secure that outcome.

It was widely expected that Russia would insist at least that language in the draft explicitly calling on Assad to transfer power to his deputy be dropped, as well as criticism of arms sales to Syria that is clearly aimed at Moscow.

Writing by Louis Charbonneau and Patrick Worsnip; additional reporting by John Irish in Paris and Ashad Mohammed in Washington; editing by Mohammad Zargham and Christopher Wilson