Is the draft U.N. resolution on Syria to be watered down?

As U.S. Secretary State Hillary Clinton prepared to deliver a plea to the United Nations to take tough action against Syria, the U.N. Security Council remained deadlocked over a Western and Arab-backed draft resolution condemning Syria’s violent suppression of protesters, and calling on President Bashar al-Assad to step down from power. Clinton will join a ...

By
JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images
JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images
JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images

As U.S. Secretary State Hillary Clinton prepared to deliver a plea to the United Nations to take tough action against Syria, the U.N. Security Council remained deadlocked over a Western and Arab-backed draft resolution condemning Syria's violent suppression of protesters, and calling on President Bashar al-Assad to step down from power.

Clinton will join a group of prominent Arab and European diplomats -- including Nabil Elaraby, the secretary general of the Arab League, British Foreign Secretary William Hague, and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe -- who are seeking to ratchet up pressure on Syria's closet ally, Russia, not to block a council vote on the Arab League proposal for a political transition in Syria.

Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in Sydney today that he would "never allow" a Libyan-style resolution that forces regime change in Syria. But he also sought to distance his government from the beleaguered Syrian leader.

As U.S. Secretary State Hillary Clinton prepared to deliver a plea to the United Nations to take tough action against Syria, the U.N. Security Council remained deadlocked over a Western and Arab-backed draft resolution condemning Syria’s violent suppression of protesters, and calling on President Bashar al-Assad to step down from power.

Clinton will join a group of prominent Arab and European diplomats — including Nabil Elaraby, the secretary general of the Arab League, British Foreign Secretary William Hague, and French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe — who are seeking to ratchet up pressure on Syria’s closet ally, Russia, not to block a council vote on the Arab League proposal for a political transition in Syria.

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in Sydney today that he would "never allow" a Libyan-style resolution that forces regime change in Syria. But he also sought to distance his government from the beleaguered Syrian leader.

"We are not a friend, we are not an ally of President Assad,” Lavrov said. "We never said President Assad remaining in power is the solution to the crisis. What we did say is it is up to the Syrians themselves to decide how to run the country.”

The more nuanced Russian stance provided European diplomats with greater confidence that there may be hope of persuading Moscow not to block the resolution, which has the backing of the Arab League leadership, according to a council diplomatic source. But the United States counseled against making new concessions to the Russians on the grounds that Moscow would probably block even a watered-down resolution, the source said.

The United States and its European partners have argued that they have never had any intention of using force against Syria, and that Russia’s invocation of Libya is designed to draw attention away from Syria’s crackdown on protesters. In an effort to overcome Russian objections to the draft, the sponsors of the resolution inserted language that explicitly rules out the prospect that the text could be used as a pretext for military action, according to a confidential draft of the resolution.

On Monday, Chinese, Russian, and Indian diplomats painstakingly reviewed the Western and Arab-backed resolution, expressing reservations over the most important provisions of the text. A copy of the text shows that provisions calling on states to prevent the flow of arms into Syria, reinforcing existing Arab League sanctions, and outlining the Arab League’s road map for the transition to a government of national unity have been placed in brackets, a diplomatic drafter’s shorthand for disagreement.

Follow me on Twitter @columlynch

Colum Lynch was a staff writer at Foreign Policy between 2010 and 2022. Twitter: @columlynch

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.