Security Council divided over Syria sanctions

In this citizen journalism image made on a mobile phone and provided by Shaam News Network, Anti-Syrian regime students, hold an Arabic placard read:"Down with Baathist school," during a demonstration against the Syrian regime, at Amouda village, in Qamishli province, northeast of Syria, on Monday Sept. 26, 2011. A Syrian official says gunmen have kidnapped 14 army officers in an ambush that killed six soldiers and a security agent. The official says the incident occurred Sunday outside the town of Qusair near the border with Lebanon. The official spoke Monday on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
AP Photo/Shaam News Network

UNITED NATIONS - The Security Council is divided over whether to even threaten U.N. sanctions against Syria.

The council met again Thursday behind closed doors to try to bridge divisions on what would be a first U.N. resolution condemning President Bashar Assad's six-month military crackdown and calling for inclusive political talks.

But the Europeans and Russia remained at odds over mentioning the possibility of sanctions.

The Europeans insist that if Syria doesn't comply with demands, including an immediate halt to violence and respect for human rights, the council should consider sanctions. But Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters after Thursday's meeting that Moscow is totally opposed to even mentioning the possibility of sanctions, "and we are not the only ones ... who think that."

It took four months for the Security Council to break a deadlock between supporters and opponents of Syria and finally issue a statement in August condemning the escalating violence in Syria.

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The Europeans, backed by the United States, quickly tried to press for a legally binding resolution calling for an immediate arms embargo and other sanctions aimed at stopping the government's ongoing crackdown on opposition protesters.

But Russia, China, India, South Africa and Brazil were opposed, partly because of fear that the resolution might be used as a pretext for armed intervention against Syria. They argue that the U.N. resolution authorizing the use of force to protect civilians in Libya has been misused by NATO to justify months of air strikes against Moammar Gadhafi's regime.

This week, the Europeans presented a new draft resolution that dropped immediate sanctions, which the council discussed Wednesday.

It expressed "determination" to impose targeted sanctions within 15 days if the Syrian government doesn't immediately end all violence, allow fundamental rights and freedoms including free expression and peaceful assembly, lift all media restrictions, and allow unhindered access for human rights investigators.

But the Russians rejected it.

So the Europeans came back with a new text Thursday that softens the sanctions language further.

It expresses determination to review in 30 days whether Syria has complied with its demands to halt violence and restore human rights "and, in the event that Syria has not complied with this resolution, to consider the adoption of targeted measures, including sanctions," under an article of the U.N. Charter that is not militarily enforceable.

Russia's Churkin said he was "upset" at this text because it fell short of incorporating his suggestions from Wednesday's discussion — but he said there was "a good discussion" Thursday and he is waiting to see a new text that is being prepared.

Germany's U.N. Ambassador Peter Wittig agreed that there was "a good discussion" on Thursday.

"We are working for a strong and unified message of the Security Council," he said.

"We want to keep the essential message of that resolution — and that is if the repression and the violence doesn't stop, there will be further measures. This is what we want to keep and we're working for it," Wittig said.

India's U.N. Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri said all 15 members are trying to send a unified message from the council.

He said India wants to ensure that the text mentions "the fact that there is violence also being caused by some extremist elements" even though "there's no question of equivalence."

Both Churkin and Puri said they also want to ensure that there is a call for all sides to engage in a political dialogue to resolve the conflict.