The U.N. Security Council tried again Wednesday to bridge divisions over possible sanctions against Syria and reach agreement on a resolution condemning the government's six-month military crackdown and calling for inclusive political talks.
The United Nations' most powerful body met behind closed doors for two hours to discuss newly revised rival texts _ a European draft threatening sanctions against President Bashar Assad's regime if the violence doesn't end immediately and a Russian text which makes no mention of sanctions and rules out any outside military intervention.
The Russians and Europeans told reporters afterwards it was a good discussion, and one council diplomat said "there was nothing that looked insurmountable."
The Europeans are expected to incorporate some Russian proposals in a new text that will be discussed when council experts meet again Thursday afternoon, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
"The Europeans reached out in the spirit of compromise to other countries," Germany's U.N. Ambassador Peter Wittig said. "The idea, of course, is getting a strong and unified message of the council ... that the Syrian regime has to stop violence and engage in dialogue."
It took four months for the council to break a deadlock and finally issue a statement in August condemning the escalating violence in Syria.
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 their initial draft resolution, circulated in late August, faced opposition from Russia, China, India, South Africa and Brazil, partly because of fear it 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, and now its remnants.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters after Wednesday's meeting that both sides "are now closer" than at the outset of talks in August.
The key, he said, is not to lose sight of the two objectives _ "stop violence immediately and put in train a political process which would lead to reforms and would lead to satisfactory situation of the people of Syria."
"I think we should come up" with a resolution "if we keep focus on those two main aspects," Churkin said.
He wouldn't talk about sanctions, but earlier Wednesday he took a tough line against the revised European draft.
It drops the demand for immediate sanctions, but expresses "determination" to impose targeted sanctions 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.
Churkin said the draft supported the Europeans' "openly declared policy of regime change" which encourages "destructive elements of the opposition" and violence to continue, and he called other unspecified provisions "extremely dangerous."
Asked whether dropping sanctions wasn't enough, Churkin replied: "Ha! We have seen this thing happen many times before especially in the situation of Libya."
He said it's important to determine how seemingly innocent language in the text can be interpreted and used.
France's U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud expressed hope for quick action on a new resolution, "if possible Friday."
"The text we are presenting is without sanctions, which is from our point a view a very significant step, so I do hope that we reach compromise with all the members of the council," he said.
Churkin countered that the council should vote "as soon as we have a good resolution. ... If we have some problems we'll need to keep working."
The United States has imposed its own sanctions against Assad's regime and wants the U.N. to join in.
"We want a resolution with teeth," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. "We want a resolution that makes absolutely clear to the Assad regime that the violence needs to end, that we must have international monitors in Syria and that there will be consequences."
The Syrian military crackdown, using tanks, snipers and mafia-like gunmen operating as hired guns for the regime is increasingly being met by armed resistance from once-peaceful protesters. The government insists it is fighting thugs and religious extremists who are acting out a foreign conspiracy, a view echoed by Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari.
He accused the Europeans and Americans of pressing for a resolution against Syria to divert attention from the Palestinian bid for membership in the Security Council. The U.S. has said it will veto a bid and many Europeans want Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to resume first.
Ja'afari welcomed the Russian draft saying it provides balance and stops council members from "fulfilling political agendas rather than helping Syria confronting these terrorist waves launched against the government by these armed groups."