The Obama administration pressed Russia on Friday to back a softened version of a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the violence in Syria, though it was unclear if the compromise wording would compel President Bashar Assad to step down as Washington wants.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke by telephone with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in an effort to overcome Russian opposition to any statement that explicitly calls for regime change or a military intervention in Syria. The U.S. and its partners have ruled out military action but want the global body to endorse an Arab League plan that calls on Assad to hand power over to Syria's vice president.
Clinton called Lavrov while flying to Munich for a security conference that both are attending, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. He said Clinton and Lavrov agreed to have American and Russian diplomats continue work on a Syria resolution and were planning to meet for more talks in the German city over the weekend.
"We want to see the Security Council speak in a unified and strong fashion in support of the Syrian people," Toner told reporters in Washington. The resolution should tell "the Syrian government that the violence needs to end and a political transition needs to take place."
Toner declined to describe the substance of the discussion between Clinton and Lavrov or to say if it helped end Russian resistance to a tough resolution against the Assad regime.
But Russia's deputy foreign minister, Gennady Gatilov, said Moscow could not support the resolution in its current form. Still, he expressed optimism that an agreement could be reached, according to state news agency RIA Novosti.
Assad's regime has been intensifying an assault against army defectors and protesters. The U.N. said weeks ago that more than 5,400 people have been killed in violence since March. Hundreds more have been killed since that tally was announced. Deadly clashes between government troops and rebels in suburbs of Syria's capital and villages in the country's south on Friday killed at least 23 people, including nine soldiers, activists said.
The U.S. and its European partners presented the U.N. with a resolution in October condemning Assad's government but were stymied by a double-veto from Russia and China. Moscow insists it won't support any resolution that could open the door to foreign military action in Syria, the way an Arab-backed U.N. measure paved the way for NATO airstrikes in Libya. Russia, a permanent Security Council member like the U.S., Britain, China and France, can veto any U.N. resolution.
U.S. officials, however, are optimistic that the latest draft will gain Russia's support. It repeats the Arab League's demands for the Syrian government to halt violence and allow peaceful protest, and recognizes the league's call for a Syrian-led political transition. In a nod to Moscow, the resolution insists the results of a negotiation between Syria's government and opposition shouldn't be prejudged.
The resolution sets a deadline of 21 days for progress. No progress would mean the issue returns to the Security Council. The draft contains no new sanctions but gives the council an opportunity to revisit the situation, U.S. officials said.
It is unclear when a vote may take place.
Associated Press writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.