By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A U.S.-drafted U.N. Security Council statement would have the 15-nation panel step up the pressure on Syria by ordering it to comply with an April 10 deadline to halt fighting and withdraw its forces from Syrian population centers.
U.N. Arab League envoy Kofi Annan told the council on Monday that the Syrian government had accepted the deadline, adding that he would push for an end of rebel operations within 48 hours after the government stops fighting and pulls its forces back. Annan urged the council to support the deadline.
In response to Annan's request, the United States drafted a so-called "presidential statement" endorsing the timeline for ending a year-long conflict in Syria that has killed thousands.
U.N. diplomats say it could be adopted by the council later on Wednesday or Thursday - assuming Western powers have Russia's and China's support.
"The Security Council demands that the Syrian government immediately and verifiably implement its commitments ... to (a) cease troop movements towards population centers, (b) cease all use of heavy weapons in such centers, and (c) begin pullback of military concentrations in and around population centers ... by 10 April 2012," says the draft statement, obtained by Reuters.
It adds that the council also "calls upon all parties, including the opposition, to cease armed violence within 48 hours of the complete implementation of these measures by the Syrian government."
Council diplomat told Reuters that they were still negotiating on the wording of the statement, which was drafted by the United States in cooperation with Britain, France and Germany. They said it still might change before the council officially adopts it.
The statement asks Annan to continue to update the council on Syria's compliance with the deadline and progress towards implementing his six-point peace plan, which calls for an end to violence and dialogue between the government and opposition on a "political transition" for the country.
"In light of these reports (from Annan), the Security Council will consider further steps as appropriate," the statement says. There are no details about the steps it could take, though Russia and China have so far rejected Western suggestions that Damascus should be hit with U.N. sanctions.
RUSSIAN POSITION UNCLEAR
The draft would also have the council ask Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to present proposals for a ceasefire monitoring mission to monitor compliance with any future truce.
As part of Annan's peace plan, the U.N. peacekeeping department is planning for a ceasefire monitoring mission that would have 200 to 250 unarmed observers. It would require a Security Council resolution.
Security Council statements need to be approved unanimously. It was not immediately clear what Russia's position on the draft statement was, though Moscow has already said it backed the April 10 deadline and has urged Damascus to take the first step towards ending the fighting between the army and opposition.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said from Moscow that Syria is already withdrawing forces from cities and towns in accordance with Annan's plan, and that Russia hopes it will meet the April 10 deadline. He also suggested Moscow would be wary of any new formal action by the Security Council.
Gatilov said Russia would be willing to consider "additional impulses from the Security Council" if other members believe they are needed, but added: "Any reaction by the Security Council must be balanced and contain an appeal to both sides - the government and opposition." "We hope the Syrian authorities meet the April 10 deadline," Interfax quoted him as saying.
Syria has publicly accepted the deadline, but Western diplomats have expressed skepticism about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's intentions. They said it was doubtful he would fully comply with the deadline since he has broken all previous promises to halt to military action against civilian protesters.
But Damascus' staunch ally Russia, which is key to the success or failure of Annan's peace plan, has grown increasingly frustrated with Assad and is pressuring him to end the fighting, U.N. envoys say.
Separately, Annan will brief the 193-nation U.N. General Assembly on Thursday at 10 a.m. on the situation in Syria via video link, an assembly spokeswoman said.
(Additional reporting by Steve Gutterman in Moscow; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)