Western powers press for quick action on UN Syria statement

UNITED NATIONS- A Western-drafted statement on Syria that could be voted Tuesday by the UN Security Council would call for possible "further measures" if President Bashar al-Assad does not carry out UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan.
The presidential statement was put to the council Monday by France, aiming to give strong backing to Annan's efforts to halt the 12 months of killing in Syria.

First talks on the statement were to be held Tuesday and France's UN envoy Gerard Araud said he hoped it would be adopted the same day.
The statement, obtained by AFP, would express the "gravest concern" at the deteriorating crisis in Syria and "profound regret" at the thousands of dead over the past year.
It calls on Assad and Syria's opposition to "implement fully and immediately" Annan's six-point peace plan. It says the council will "consider further measures" if nothing is done within seven days of any adoption.
Russia and China have twice used their powers as permanent members of the 15-nation council to veto resolutions on Syria. They said the resolutions aimed at regime change and that they opposed any sanctions.
While both have since put increased pressure on the Syrian government, diplomats said both could oppose the reference to new measures.
But in a new sign of the diplomatic urgency over Syria, the Security Council is also negotiating a press statement, proposed by Russia, condemning the bomb attacks in Damascus and Aleppo at the weekend.
Araud said the presidential statement is "very limited" to Annan's mission in a bid to reduce any potential opposition.
"It's really the least controversial text that we could utter," Araud told reporters. But he acknowledged that it was "such a sensitive topic that countries need instructions from their capitals."
A presidential statement has less weight than a resolution but is adopted by consensus and is generally negotiated faster.
"No one suggested that there was any particular sticking point but most people were seeing it for the first time this morning," added Britain's UN ambassador Mark Lyall Grant.
Germany's UN ambassador Peter Wittig said the statement contained "a clear message to the Syrian authorities to cooperate with Kofi Annan, to cooperate with the Security Council. And, above all, to immediately end the violence that is still raging in a very brutal way."
He said it was "urgent" to adopt the declaration on Tuesday.
Annan appealed for united Security Council support for his mission when he briefed envoys on Friday on the six-point plan he put to Assad during talks in Damascus.
The plan includes a halt to the violence, humanitarian access, the release of detainees held over the past year and withdrawal of security forces from protest cities.
Diplomats said the Assad government had sent one response which said that as a condition for ceasefire talks, the opposition had to lay down its arms. Neighboring countries had to guarantee they would not send weapons to Syrian groups or give political or financial support to opposition groups.
A team of five experts sent by Annan is in Damascus to discuss efforts to set up a monitoring mission and a ceasefire.
The political, peacekeeping and mediation experts "will be staying for as long as they are making progress (on reaching) agreement on practical steps to implement Mr Annan's proposals" said Annan's spokesman Ahmad Fawzi.
UN and Organization of Islamic Cooperation experts are also in Syria, observing a government-led assessment of humanitarian conditions in protest cities such as Homs and Deraa.

Tuesday, March 20th 2012

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