U.N. softens Syria draft to get Russians onboard

Syrian refugees walk through woods helped by rebels from the Free Syrian Army as they attempt to cross the northwestern part of the Syrian border with neighbouring Turkey, on March 18, 2012, a year after a revolt against President Bashar al-Assad's regime erupted. Giorgos Moutafis/AFP/Getty Images

(AP) UNITED NATIONS - Speaking in Indonesia Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said escalating violence in Syria is "extremely dangerous" and could have global repercussions.

He told reporters in the Indonesian capital on Wednesday that, "We do not know how events will unfold."

"But we do know that we all have a responsibility to work for a resolution of this profound and extremely dangerous crisis ... a crisis that has potentially massive repercussions for the region and the world."

The United Nations says well over 8,000 people have been killed as a result of the government's yearlong crackdown on protesters and has raised the notion that sanctions or military action may eventually be required.

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In a bid to win Russian and Chinese support, France has watered down a proposed U.N. Security Council statement calling on the Syrian government and the opposition to immediately implement proposals by international envoy Kofi Annan to end the yearlong bloodshed.

The original draft presidential statement would have called on the council to review implementation of Annan's six-point proposal in seven days and consider "further measures" which could include sanctions or military action if there wasn't sufficient progress.

But a revised draft circulated late Tuesday and obtained by The Associated Press drops this threat and instead asks Annan to update the council regularly on the progress of his mission. "In the light of these reports, the Security Council will consider further steps as appropriate," the new draft said.

Security Council ambassadors discussed the text behind closed doors Tuesday and then sent it back to their capitals. If there are no objections by 9 a.m. EDT (1300 GMT) Wednesday, diplomats said the statement will be read by the council president, Britain's U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, at an open meeting later in the day, signifying its adoption.

A presidential statement, which needs approval from all 15 Security Council members, becomes part of the council's permanent record. But unlike a council resolution, it is not legally binding.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday that the Syria crisis is the most pressing issue facing the world.

"We have no time to waste, no time to lose. Just one minute, one hour delay will mean more and more people dead," Ban told reporters in the Indonesian city of Bogor, his first stop on an Asian tour.

The revised draft was discussed hours after Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow is ready to support a U.N. resolution endorsing Annan's plan for settling the Syrian crisis. But Lavrov warned that a resolution shouldn't turn into an ultimatum to the Syrian government.

Russia and China have twice vetoed European and U.S.-backed resolutions condemning President Bashar Assad's crackdown on protesters, in which more than 8,000 people have died. Moscow and Beijing called the resolutions unbalanced because they demanded an end only to attacks by government troops but not by opposition forces. Russia also argued that the resolutions promoted regime change in Syria.

The Kremlin has offered strong support to Annan, a former U.N. secretary-general who is the joint U.N. and Arab League special envoy on Syria. Lavrov said over the weekend that Annan's plan doesn't contain a demand for Assad to step down.

One of the sticking points between Russia, Syria and the West is the sequencing of a cease-fire. Syria says the opposition must lay down its arms first. Russia says the government and opposition must stop fighting simultaneously. Western countries insist that since Assad's forces started the fighting and are responsible for most of the killings, they must stop first.

The revised draft resolution would require the Syrian government to immediately stop troop movements and halt the use of heavy weapons in populated areas. As these actions are taking place, it says the government should work with Annan to bring about a halt to violence under U.N. supervision.

The draft says Annan should seek similar commitments from the opposition with no mention of a time frame.

It would commit Assad's government to work with Annan "in an inclusive Syrian-led political process to address the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people," and both sides "to work in good faith with the envoy towards a peaceful settlement of the Syrian crisis."

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