By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said on Tuesday Moscow did not think it was time to impose sanctions that Western countries are seeking on Syria over its five-month crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.
He was speaking shortly before the United States and European nations on the U.N. Security Council delivered a draft sanctions resolution on Syria to the 15-nation body.
Russia, along with Britain, China, France and the United States, has the power to veto any resolution, and Churkin's remarks suggested that persuading Moscow to back tough measures would not be easy for the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Portugal, the drafters of the sanctions text.
Asked as he was going into a regular Security Council meeting whether it was time for sanctions on Damascus, Churkin told reporters, "No, we don't think so."
Russia is not alone. China, South Africa, Brazil and India have indicated that they would have trouble supporting punitive measures against Damascus. Council resolutions need nine votes in favor and no vetoes in order to pass.
Several council diplomats told Reuters on Tuesday the draft resolution called for sanctions against about 20 Syrians, including President Bashar al-Assad. They also said the draft contained the threat of a referral of the Syrian crackdown to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
TRAVEL BANS, ASSET FREEZE
Diplomats had told Reuters an earlier version called for an actual referral of the Syrian violence against protesters to the ICC, as happened in the case of Libya earlier this year.
After the council referred the matter to the ICC, the court issued warrants for the arrest of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam and his intelligence chief.
The draft resolution also proposes the blacklisting of four Syrian companies, diplomats said on condition of anonymity.
Typically, U.N. sanctions against individuals include an international travel ban and mandatory freezing of any financial assets. Sanctioned companies face an asset freeze and it becomes illegal for any firm to do business with them.
A senior Western diplomat hinted last week that the proposed sanctions could include an arms embargo. Moscow might have trouble with that because Russia is a long-standing arms supplier for Damascus. It was not immediately clear if the latest version included an arms embargo.
Churkin did not comment on any specific sanctions measures being proposed.
"There are some ideas being floated but those are initial ideas," he said. "But we are comfortable within the scope of the August 3 statement."
The United Nations says 2,200 people have been killed in Syria since the crackdown against protesters began in March and its Human Rights Council launched an investigation on Tuesday into the violence, including possible crimes against humanity, despite objections from Russia and China.
Churkin said Russia believed the 15-nation council had stated its position clearly in its August 3 statement, in which it called for an end to violence and condemned the use of force by Syrian authorities.
"We hope to see progress, we hope to see dialogue established in Syria," he said. "We think we should continue to work within the scope of that unified position."
(Editing by Bill Trott)