U.N. Syria mission hands in balance of Security Council standoff with Russia, China

A U.N. observer vehicle arrives at the site where a bomb attack hit the National Security building in Damascus, Syria, July 18, 2012.
AP Photo/Bassem Tellawi

(CBS/AP) UNITED NATIONS - A crucial East-West showdown over Syria loomed Thursday in the United Nations' Security Council, which scheduled a vote after a last-minute delay failed to get key Western nations and Russia to agree on measures to end the dramatically escalating violence.

The 15-nation council is under pressure to decide on a new Syria resolution because the mandate of the 300-strong U.N. observer force there expires on Friday, and it must decide by then whether to extend it.

Maj. Gen. Robert Mood, the head of the U.N. mission in Syria, told reporters in Damascus on Thursday, meanwhile, that "we are not on the track for peace," citing intense fighting in and around the capital this week.

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International envoy Kofi Annan had urged the council to postpone Wednesday's scheduled vote so members could "unite and take concerted and strong action that would help stem the bloodshed in Syria and build momentum for a political transition," his spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said.

Britain's U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said his country's Western-backed text would be put to a vote at 10 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT) on Thursday.

It threatens non-military sanctions against President Bashar Assad's government if he doesn't withdraw troops and heavy weapons from populated areas within 10 days. It is tied to Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which could eventually allow the use of force to end the conflict.

Russia, which is a close Syrian ally, has said it would veto such a resolution, arguing that the British text amounted to support for the rebels and would lead to more bloodshed. Russia and China have incurred international criticism by twice vetoing U.N. resolutions to increase pressure on Assad.

A deadly bombing Wednesday in the heart of Damascus that killed the defense minister and his deputy, Assad's powerful brother-in-law "only underscores the urgency of decisive council action," Fawzi told U.N. television.

The vote was initially called for earlier in the week, but it was put off because both sides have been deeply divided. Fawzi said Thursday that Annan had urged the members to delay their meeting until agreement had been reached.

Germany's foreign minister on Thursday appealed to Russia and China to get behind sanctions against the Assad regime at the U.N.

"People are dying, and Moscow and Beijing are still hesitating — this is absolutely worthy of criticism," Guido Westerwelle said in Berlin. "I appeal emphatically to Russia and China to do justice to their political and human responsibility, take responsibility for people in Syria and contribute to the stability of the entire region."