DEAUVILLE, France (Reuters) - G8 leaders demanded an end to Syria’s killing of protesters but rowed back on proposing a U.N. Security Council resolution amid opposition from Russia, which said there were no grounds to consider such a move.
In its summit communique, the Group of Eight said it was “appalled” at the bloodshed in Syria and called for an immediate end to the use of force, yet the language of the final draft was watered down to remove an explicit proposal to act against Damascus in the Security Council.
The shift in language to a vaguer threat of “further measures” appeared to be driven by Russia, which has a Security Council veto and has generally taken a softer line than Western states against autocratic Arab leaders.
“There are no grounds to consider this issue (Syria) in the U.N. Security Council,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters as the summit wound down in the northern French seaside town of Deauville.
He said a draft resolution circulated to the 15-nation council on Wednesday by Britain, France, Germany and Portugal, was “untimely and damaging,” adding: “We will not even read the text.” The draft resolution could also face a Chinese veto.
European diplomats said Russia’s longstanding relations and what they called close communications with Syria had led to the final G8 communique being “more nuanced” than it was at first.
Russia -- which says that the Western coalition carrying out airstrikes in Libya is violating its Security Council mandate -- has urged Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to conduct promised reforms, but has spoken out against foreign involvement.
President Dmitry Medvedev said last week that Russia would not support a Security Council resolution on Syria, but did not make clear whether he would veto such a measure.
The statement by the Group of Eight, which includes Russia, read: “We are appalled by the deaths of many peaceful protesters as a result of the sweeping use of violence in Syria as well as by repeated and serious violations of human rights.”
“We call on the Syrian leadership to immediately stop using force and intimidation against the Syrian people and to respond to their legitimate demands for freedom of expression and universal rights and aspirations,” it said.
Security forces killed two demonstrators in a Damascus suburb on Friday and fired at others in eastern Syria calling for “the overthrow of the regime,” a rights group and residents said.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who tried early in his presidency to revive relations between Syria and the West, stepped up his language against Assad on Friday.
Asked if he supported Washington’s view that Assad should push a speedy democratic transition or leave, Sarkozy said: “Would I have said that? Yes.”
“Sadly, I regret to say that Syrian leaders have taken an extraordinary step backwards and under these circumstances, Syria no longer has our trust and France denounces what must be denounced,” Sarkozy added.
The G8 said only dialogue and fundamental reforms would lead to democracy and to long-term security and prosperity in Syria.
“Should the Syrian authorities not heed this call, we will consider further measures. We are convinced that only by implementing meaningful reforms will a democratic Syria be able to play a positive role in the region,” the communique said.
Part of Russia’s reluctance to support a Syria resolution stems from the fact that it regards the resolution on Libya as having been too broadly interpreted, allowing Western powers to move very rapidly to air strikes when the resolution originally talked of protecting civilians, diplomats said.
In March, Moscow let the Libya resolution pass by abstaining from voting.
A G8 source familiar with talks on Syria at the United Nations said it was not surprising that a reference to a Security Council resolution had been cut.
The source said that backers of a resolution had gathered nine of the required votes in the 15-member council to put a resolution on the table, but that Russia or China might use their veto.
“We are seeing if we can negotiate around the text so we can get something through. If they continue to say no, we shall try and push it through with the nine votes and hope they assume their responsibilities.”
Editing by Geert De Clercq