May 26, 2011 / 7:49 PM / in 9 years

Russia, China wary of U.N. condemning Syria - envoys

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Veto-holders Russia and China raised concerns Thursday about a European bid to have the U.N. Security Council condemn Syria’s bloody crackdown against anti-government protesters, diplomats said.

Despite initial negative reactions from Moscow and Beijing, Western diplomats said on condition of anonymity they hoped the Russians and Chinese would not block the draft resolution which Britain, France, Germany and Portugal circulated to the 15-nation body Wednesday.

“We’ve got nine votes at the moment,” a diplomat said. “We’ll try to get the South Africans, Brazilians and Indians on board. No one’s threatened to use a veto but we’ll have to do some work to persuade the Russians and Chinese to abstain.”

Syria’s foreign minister publicly urged Moscow to veto any attempts to condemn Damascus at the Security Council.

Russian and Chinese diplomats outlined their reservations about the draft resolution during a closed-door meeting of officials from the 15 council members to discuss the text.

“There was continued concern from the usual suspects,” a diplomat told Reuters.

Russia and China were the most negative, while India, Brazil and South Africa also raised some concerns about the text during the Thursday meeting.

Lebanon is the sole Arab nation on the Security Council. Diplomats said it would either abstain or vote against the resolution. Beirut has had a troubled relationship with its neighbour and Syrian influence remains strong there.

A previous European-led push to persuade the council to issue a statement rebuking Syria collapsed earlier this month when Russia, China and India made clear they opposed it.

Russia and China abstained from a resolution authorizing the use of force in Libya but have complained of NATO powers overstepping their mandate in an attempt to topple leader Muammar Gaddafi.

A vote on the Syria resolution was seen as unlikely before next week. In order to secure abstentions from Russia and China, the text would have to be amended, diplomats said.

SYRIA SAYS IT RELIES ON RUSSIA

The draft, which is supported by Washington, “condemns the systematic violation of human rights, including the killings, arbitrary detentions, disappearances, and torture of peaceful demonstrators, human rights defenders and journalists.”

The text also says Syrian actions may amount to crimes against humanity and demands that Damascus comply with a U.N. Human Rights Council inquiry and launch its own “credible and impartial investigation” into the violence against protesters.

Unlike resolutions passed this year on Libya, the draft does not provide for U.N. sanctions or military intervention against Syria. But it urges states to end arms sales to Syria.

Earlier this week a Syrian human rights group said security forces had killed at least 1,100 civilians in their two-month campaign to crush anti-government demonstrations.

The point of the resolution, envoys said, is to increase the diplomatic isolation of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who was forced to end Damascus’ candidacy for a seat on the U.N. Human Rights Council earlier this month, diplomats said.

“This would be further evidence of their standing eroding,” a senior Western diplomat told reporters.

Last week, President Dmitry Medvedev said Russia would not support a council resolution on Syria — a longtime ally of Moscow — if it were similar to a March 17 resolution authorizing military intervention in Libya.

However, he did not say Russia would veto a resolution.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem made clear in an interview with Syrian state television earlier this week that he expected Russia to veto any resolution against Damascus.

“My question to the countries that have the right to use their veto is will they just leave this issue up to Western powers’ hegemony?” he said. “We rely on the Russian position.”

Additional reporting by Yara Bayoumy in Beirut; editing by Laura MacInnis

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