US hopes dim for UN resolution on Syria

AP News
Posted: Mar 09, 2012 5:16 PM
US hopes dim for UN resolution on Syria

The Obama administration's hopes for a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding an end to violence in Syria dimmed Friday as Russia continued to object to language it believes is biased against the government in Damascus, U.S. officials said.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she had appealed to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for flexibility from Moscow and would be speaking with him again at the United Nations on Monday on the sidelines of a special Security Council session on the Arab Spring.

Clinton told reporters at the State Department that she would speak with Lavrov "about our hope that Russia will play a constructive role in ending the bloodshed and working toward a political transition in Syria."

"We continue to urge the international community to come together to take action, first to provide human relief and second to work toward a political transition that would have a change in leadership to one that would respect the rights and dignity of the Syrian people," she said.

But other officials said there was no sign that Russia was willing to back down and there was little chance of getting an agreement.

The "consultations that we had have not resulted in an agreed text," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. "We are frankly not overly optimistic that an agreed text will be reached in the near future."

She said Syria is now "topic one, two and three" in U.S. administration talks with Russia.

Syria is Russia's primary ally in the Arab world and hosts a large Russian naval base and Russia, along with China, has already vetoed two Security Council resolutions on Syria, including one that would have called on Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down.

But Chinese officials have recently hinted at a possible change in position and U.S. and European diplomats had suggested that Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin might be ready to compromise.

"We had hoped (and) we continue to hope that with their own elections behind them, that Russia can do more now to pressure Assad," Nuland said, calling the Assad regime "a mafia-like crime family."

U.S. officials said Friday, however, that that did not appear to be the case.

Lavrov is expected in Cairo for talks with Arab League officials this weekend ahead of his trip to New York and U.S. officials said they expected he would hear from them that action on Syria is urgent. Arab League foreign ministers are to meet on Sunday to assess the situation in Syria and hear from joint U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, former U.N. secretary-general, about his trip to Damascus.

Russia has objected to what it says is language slanted in favor of the opposition. Earlier this week, the U.S. proposed a resolution that would demand an end to violence, first by government forces and then by opposition fighters. This was not acceptable to the Russians and the draft has been returned to the U.S. with little prospect for progress, officials said.

Meanwhile, the administration reacted warmly to reports of small but growing numbers of defections from the Assad regime. Reports from Turkey indicated that a pair of generals, as well as other military personnel had defected. Those followed reports on Thursday that Syria's deputy oil minister had abandoned the government.

"We continue to urge the Syrian army not to turn their weapons against their own people, defenseless civilians, women and children," Clinton said.

Administration officials said they could not confirm the reported defections but White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, if true, they were an encouraging development.

"Those defections are a courageous step by members of the regime demonstrating their loyalty to and support for the Syrian people and their aspirations," he said.

"If the reports are true, it's certainly a sign that there are significant cracks in the Assad regime" and lend weight to the U.S. view that Assad will fall, Earnest said. "A political transition will take place in Syria that will end with Assad no longer in power."

U.S. intelligence officials say the defections are not from Assad's inner circle and say they have no indications of the broader Syrian elite abandoning their support for him, the best indication of a weakening of his regime. Signs of a worsening economy could be the biggest threat to Assad's stability, with food prices doubling, refined fuel growing scarce and unemployment rising.

The disorganized Syrian opposition is providing little challenge to the regime, though new satellite imagery shows a new ferociousness to the embattled regime's attacks, including artillery shelling of multiple mosques, schools, playgrounds and a hospital, in the Sunni neighborhood of Homs, said the officials, who would speak only on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

The officials said they assume the Syrian army was aiming at insurgents but apparently took no care to avoid civilian targets.

The continuing violence has driven some 2,000 refugees over the Lebanese border and displaced up to 200,000 more, the officials said.

For the past year, Syria's government has tried to crush a popular uprising inspired by the Arab Spring movements. The U.N. says more than 7,500 people have been killed.


Lederer reported from the United Nations. AP National Security Writer Anne Gearan and AP Intelligence Writer Kimberly Dozier contributed to this report.