Clash over Syria looms at UN council


A new diplomatic clash over Syria is looming as foreign ministers from key UN Security Council nations meet on Monday.
British organizers of the event meant for it to be a review of the Arab Spring uprisings; the event however will be shaped by stark differences over how to stop President Bashar al-Assad’s deadly assault on opponents.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and foreign ministers Sergei Lavrov of Russia, William Hague of Britain, Alain Juppe of France and Guido Westerwelle of Germany will be among top officials at the event.
The council’s failure to agree a resolution condemning the Syria violence, the worsening toll in Syria — well over 7,500 according to the UN — and Assad’s refusal to allow humanitarian groups into the protest cities have all cast a dark cloud over preparations for Monday’s meeting.
And it comes as UN-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan left Damascus on Sunday without managing to secure an accord to end bloodletting in Syria, as fighting raged in major flashpoints leaving dozens more dead.
Annan departed at the end of a two-day mission during which he said he presented al-Assad with “concrete proposals” to halt unrest.
Russia and China have twice used their powers as permanent members of the Security Council to veto resolutions condemning the Syria violence. Talks on a new US-led attempt to agree a resolution have hit a dead end, though Clinton and Lavrov will meet on the sidelines of the UN meeting.
Russia and China say the Western nations only want a resolution to back regime change. Lavrov said Russia opposes “crude interference” in Syria’s internal affairs, his ministry said after a meeting between Lavrov and UN-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan in Cairo.
Russia wants any resolution to call equally on the government and opposition groups to halt the violence. The Western members say the security force assault and attacks by opposition groups cannot be put on the same level.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who will brief Monday’s meeting, has bluntly accused Assad forces of using “disproportionate” force against what started out as peaceful demonstrators.
But Lavrov insists he is defending “international law”, while the United States and European members of the council say Russia is blocking international action to prop up its main Middle East ally. Russia, the second biggest arms supplier to Assad’s government, faces growing criticism from some Arab countries.
China has meanwhile proposed its own plan for talks between Assad and the opposition, which an envoy will press in the Arab world and Europe this week.
There are worries that the diplomatic tensions on the 15-nation Security Council could spread.
The foreign ministers of Portugal, Guatemala and Morocco are also expected at the Security Council meeting, organized by Britain as president of the Security Council for March. Business will start with the adoption of a resolution on the UN mission in Libya.
Clinton, Lavrov, Ban and EU foreign affairs representative Catherine Ashton will hold a meeting of the diplomatic Quartet on the Israel-Palestinian conflict before the Security Council battle gets into gear.


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