January 28, 2012 / 12:30 AM / 9 years ago

Russia ready to engage on U.N. Syria draft resolution

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said a European-Arab draft resolution on Syria circulated to the U.N. Security Council on Friday was unacceptable in parts, but Russia was ready to “engage” on it.

Churkin spoke to reporters after Morocco presented the council with the draft, aimed at supporting an Arab League plan for resolving the crisis in Syria. The United Nations says more than 5,000 people have been killed in a 10-month crackdown on anti-government protesters.

“We the Russian delegation do not see that draft as a basis on which we can agree,” Churkin said. “However ... that does not mean we refuse to engage with the co-sponsors of that resolution. We will continue to engage.”

He made no explicit threat to veto the draft resolution, which French Ambassador Gerard Araud and British envoy Mark Lyall Grant said they want to put to a vote next week after a briefing on Syria on Tuesday by Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby and the Qatari prime minister.

The European-Arab draft resolution would have the council endorse the Arab League’s call for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to transfer his powers to his deputy in order to form a unity government and prepare for elections.

France and Britain crafted the resolution in consultation with Qatar and Morocco, as well as Germany, Portugal and the United States. It is intended to replace a Russian draft that Western delegations said is too weak and irrelevant in light of the new Arab League plan.

Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari lashed out at Western countries he said were “repeating the same mistakes” they had made in Libya and elsewhere. “Syria will not be Libya,” he said. “Syria will not be Iraq. Syria will not be Somalia.”

He also dismissed Qatar as “a tiny country in the Gulf area” that is half-occupied by the U.S. military.

RUSSIA WANTS SYRIAN-LED PROCESS

Churkin said Russia would continue to promote its own draft resolution while engaging on the European-Arab text.

“We will continue to work with our draft and will discuss with them what we think is wrong with the (European-Arab) draft and where we can go together with the Arab League in support of the political process in Syria,” he said.

Russia, he said, is pushing for a Syrian-led political process in Syria, not “an Arab League-imposed outcome of a political process that has not yet taken place.”

Lyall Grant said the European-Arab draft incorporated elements of the Russian text, which he said had been “overtaken” by the Arab League plans.

Churkin said Russia also opposed the idea of an arms embargo and sanctions on Syria - neither of which is included in the draft resolution the Morocco submitted to the council on Friday.

Diplomats said China’s envoy had also warned council members behind closed doors against imposing an arms embargo or supporting the use of force against Syria.

Council diplomats told reporters negotiations on the text would begin in earnest on Monday.

The draft resolution, obtained by Reuters, calls for a “political transition” in Syria. While not calling for U.N. sanctions against Damascus, it does say that the Security Council could “adopt further measures” if Syria does not comply with the terms of the resolution.

Russia, together with China, vetoed a European-drafted resolution in October that condemned Syria and threatened it with sanctions.

Several Western envoys told Reuters that Russia might find it difficult to veto a resolution that is simply intended to provide support for the Arab League.

But diplomats said Western and Gulf Arab delegates will have to accommodate some Russian demands for amendments to the draft resolution if they are to secure an abstention from Moscow that would enable the resolution to pass.

Reporting By Louis Charbonneau; editing by Christopher Wilson

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